The Quest for Immortality

This is a guest post by Greg Linster, a graduate student studying economics at the University of Denver.  He blogs at Coffee Theory about things philosophical and shares aphorisms (almost daily) at Aphoristic Cocktails.  

The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death is the latest book by British political philosopher John Gray, and it explores the intellectual origins of the modern transhumanist movement in painstaking depth.  Be forewarned, the book is not exactly a cheery read.  However, Gray’s analysis is incredibly poignant and of utmost importance if we are to really understand what it means to be human.       

In The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

In a world that has become increasingly secularized, I think Nietzsche presciently understood that science would become heralded as the new religion. Technology, not a traditional deity, would then become the natural place to look for a human Savior and the Singularity would signal the technological Rapture.

The scientific quest for immortality, however, can trace its roots back to the psychical investigations that began in the late nineteenth-century, and the storied history behind this bizarre pursuit to use science in order to cheat death is largely the subject of this book.

Transcendent Man

There is a scene in the documentary Transcendent Man where Ray Kurzweil, on the verge of shedding a tear, shows that he is on the brink of an existential crisis. Kurzweil, like many of us, seems to struggle with the fact that all human life ends, and in order to assuage his fears he has become a prominent new age believer. And he is not alone in this belief either; in fact, there is a  growing transhumanist movement that is spreading around the globe.

The Singularity, according to Gray, is best understood as a version of process theology. “Just as the Bolshevik God-builders imagined a deified humanity, so a number of twentieth-century theologians, mostly American, imagined God emerging from within the human world.” In this narrative, according to Gray, the likes of Kurzweil see God as the end-point of evolution and instead of a God that creates humans, humans are God in the making.

Darwin and the God-Builders

The first section of the book, “Cross-­Correspondences,” is largely about the moral philosopher and economist Henry Sidgwick. However, Gray also discusses the importance of Darwin’s role in creating the new religion. Interestingly, we learn that Darwin never fully accepted the implications of his own theory of natural selection. Gray writes: “He knew that evolution cares nothing for humans or their values — it moves, as he put it, like the wind — but he could not hold on to this truth, because it means evolution is a process without a goal.” Most of Darwin’s followers have failed to acknowledge this teleological implication of their beloved theory too.

The second part of the book titled “God-Builders” is about the Russian God-Builders, who believed that death could be defeated using the powers of science. The section opens with a disturbing quote from Lenin: “Some day an ape will pick up a human skull and wonder where it came from”. In this section, we learn that H.G. Wells (the father of science-fiction) also failed to acknowledge the teleological implications of Darwinism. Wells believed that “an intelligent few — scientists, engineers, aviators, commissars — could seize control of evolution and lead the species to a better future…eventually, humans would become like gods.” Thus, the new religion was conceived.

This new religion was further embraced by a few of the great 20th-century European intellectuals. In fact, one member of the nineteenth-century Russian intelligentsia, Maxim Gorky, was discontented with the fate of humanity in a fashion eerily similar to that of Wells. Gorky would go on to become one of the pioneers of the “God-building” movement, which Gray describes as, “A kind of secular mystery cult…in which occultism and science marched hand in hand”. Furthermore, “The God-builders believed a true revolutionary must aim to deify humanity, an enterprise that includes the abolition of death.” As history shows us, the Bolsheviks would try to, often in a brutal fashion, implement this idea. Tragically, however, as Gray put it, “Unnumbered humans had to die, so that a new humanity could be free of death.”

The Immortalization Commission

And what about the title of the book? Days after Lenin’s death, Leonid Krasin published an article in the communist newspaper Izvestiia titled “The Architectural Immortalization of Lenin.” Later, the Funeral Commission that was set up to organize Lenin’s burial was renamed the Immortalization Commission, hence the title of the book.

The Russians obsession with death, however, is merely a microcosm for humanity as a while. As Gray writes, “The hopes that led to Lenin’s corpse being sealed in a Cubist mausoleum have not been surrendered in the slightest. Cheating aging by a low-calorie diet, uploading one’s mind into a super-computer, migrating into outer space . . . Longing for everlasting life, humans show that they remain the death-defined animal.” Would Nietzsche be surprised?

“The irony of scientific progress,” writes Gray, “is that in solving human problems it creates problems that are not humanly soluble.” Science has certainly given humans an ability to manipulate the natural world in a way that no other animal is capable of; however, it has not given us the power to redesign and tailor the laws of the universe according to our desires. That, however, has not stopped the chase for immortality. Those realists, like myself, who oppose it are often called dystopians.

Those who have read Gray’s previous works (particularly False Dawn, Straw Dogs and Black Mass) certainly understand that he has a unique knack for crushing the quixotic hopes of dreamers like Kurzweil. Ultimately, however, this book reminded me what many transhumanists fail to realize: that without death we cannot truly have life. As such, what a travesty of life it would be to achieve a machine-like immortality!

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter

Comments

  1. Brent Eubanks says:

    This is kind of tangential to the topic of the post, but I had to point out that this conclusion is false:
    “He knew that evolution cares nothing for humans or their values … means evolution is a process without a goal.”

    It’s not a process with a human-centric goal, or with a goal in the sense of an intention formed by a conscious mind. But one can infer the “goal” or “purpose” from what evolution does: It changes lifeforms to occupy new ecological niches and to adapt to changes in their existing niches. Thus the “purpose” of evolution is to spread life.

    I would submit that the evolution of a species of animals that use tools, communicates through recursive systems of symbols, collaborates, and abstracts about things and places which are not present and may not exist, is entirely in keeping with this purpose.

    Our purpose, as dictated by evolution, is to spread life. We (and any subsequent species that is so equipped) are Earthseed.

    • I think this is a dangerous argument. Evolution can easily go down a complete dead end and kill species by drawing them into a niche from which they cannot get out. The “purpose” is not to spread life because you could hypothetically come up with scenarios of non-zero probability that would kill all life.

      You CAN make the argument that it is a stochastic global optimization routine against a changing fitness landscape, but that basically means almost nothing. It’s like saying “water seeks to take on the shape of its container.” You cannot infer from that statement something like “water seeks to occupy all containers” or “water cannot leak.”

      The strongest statement I’d buy is “evolution locally and temporarily lowers entropy with a certain probability, in a nearly-closed system, given a low-entropy energy source fueling it from outside” (i.e. the sun’s radiation and geothermal heat hitting the “nearly closed” surface of the planet).

      • Brent Eubanks says:

        First, evolution can easily kill individual species or whole clades. That’s fine – experiments fail. But it’s a long way from that to proposing that the forces driving evolution can or would kill all life. I think that claim is unsupported – something always squeaks through. Major extinction events tend to be caused by changes in the environment, not by something that evolution itself has done. The closest to that I can think of is the destruction (marginalization) of the anaerobes. But evolution left something else, more energetic and dynamic, in their place. Or, alternately, the current extinction event being caused by humans (and thus, one argues, by evolution). But again I don’t think it’s remotely credible to suggest that we will actually sterilize the planet.

        Second, your reduction of evolution’s mandate to stochastic optimization either fails to account for all of its behavior, or ultimately winds up supporting my assertion. Life adapts to changes through evolution. But evolution also drives life into entirely new environments, including ones which are apparently inhospitable to life, e.g. benthic thermophiles. And the biosphere has been recolonized multiple times after extinction events.

        This suggests that an expansive impulse is fundamental to the forces which shape life. I don’t see any reason why we should assume that evolution will necessarily confine its efforts to a particular planetary surface. There’s free energy out there, so there is the potential for life to harness it. I don’t think that outer space is particularly more inhospitable from the point of view of current terrestrial life, than an avian niche is from the point of view of a prehistoric algae.

        As to your last point, I agree with your description, but not its application. What you have said is “a living organism is an entropy pump”. That is a correct description. But unwarranted to limit the scope of possible patterns of life as you do in this case.

    • I’ll add that a “purpose” is also an entirely human-centric concept. As such, how can we know that evolution has a human reasoned purpose?

      It seems like you are trying to use human reason to justify a purpose for something that may indeed be immune to being understood with human reason.

      • Brent Eubanks says:

        Yeah, yeah. I put “purpose” in quotes initially, and tried to disclaim my use of the word “goal”. You should infer such quotes in all subsequent uses of either word in this thread.

        I agree with your point. But I don’t think this makes it a not-interesting topic to discuss.

  2. It’s not that transhumanists “fail to realize”, it’s that the have considered and have rejected that platitude.

    • Ok, but for what reason?

      • Philosopher – “Without death we cannot truly have life.”
        Transhumanist – “Why the fuck not?”

        I think that sums it up. If you can explain to me what exactly is so necessary about death and what we would lose by eliminating it, I’m all ears. Note that Linster isn’t so crass as to argue against mere outcomes (demographic, economic, ecological, etc), there is assumed moral peril to considering “Cheat Death” as another tick box on science’s To Do list.

  3. Biological immortality is achievable for sure, it’s just that not enough resources are dedicated to the task, which is pretty surprising since if one could live forever, one could do all the other stuff without worries. I guess it’s just so mind boggling, it seems impossible to even the brightest minds – humans have died for millions of years, after all.
    But I guess it’s not time to become immortal yet – we still have other problems to solve, and if we can’t solve a damn economic crisis, for example, no way we’d be able to cope with people not dying anymore.

    • Dan, I’m curious — what leads you to believe that biological immortality is achievable for sure? All of the empirical evidence I’ve seen would suggest otherwise.

      • Our cells would be able to replicate indefinitely if not for the pre-programmed limit, which slowly leads to aging and death of the whole body. I’m sure you read about this theory, and I personally see no reason why it would be false – after all cancer cells are our own cells with this limit removed but no definite setting as to what to do next, so they replicate endlessly (the oldest cancer tissue, I forgot its name, has been growing for 40 years now and it’s expected to never stop).

        It would take a lot of time before we can learn how to “program” ourselves at a cell level, but I don’t see why would it be unachievable. Why do you think this is impossible? Do you at least believe that it’s possible to boost our immunity system and increase its speed so that it’s possible to live disease free for all our lives (cause that’s easier and there’s already some progress in the area)?

        • I have yet to read Ending Aging, but I think I agree with the claim that we can slow down the effects of aging dramatically for the reasons you suggest. As such, I agree with you, I think technology can help us live longer and healthier lives. However, immortality is another story.

          In order to program ourselves to be conscious forever we’d have to know what consciousness is, right? It seems that where you and I differ in opinion is on the fundamental assumption that the human experience, it its completeness, can be programmed on the cellular level. The trouble is that we don’t even know consciousness really means yet. Personally, I don’t believe consciousness can be programmed.

  4. atimoshenko says:

    “that without death we cannot truly have life”

    Or so we tell ourselves to find comfort as we stare death in the face. Kurzweil is likely quite wrong in the timing of his predictions, but to assume that some parts of the natural world are just inherently ineffable and could never be understood or controlled is just silly.

    The only reason death exists is because it was once simpler and safer, from the point of view of evolution, to create offspring than it was to keep an existing organism going indefinitely in the face of predation, disease, and a harsh environment. It’s not some fundamental “law of the universe”. And there is certainly nothing religious about it.

    • I don’t think humans have the proper psychology to live forever. Hypothetically, if even I could upload my consciousness into a machine and achieve a machine-like immortality, I think I’d decline it.

      Near the end of the book Gray writes the following chilling lines: “If you understand that in wanting to live for ever you are trying to preserve a lifeless image of yourself, you may not want to be resurrected or to survive in a post-mortem paradise. What could be more deadly than being unable to die?” (my emphasis)

      • Alexander spray says:

        Interesting. What’s to say that achieving “machine-like” immortality would be truly immortal? Time is the great equalizer, and entropy a constant law. My expectation would be that even were we able to transfer consciousness into a computer (and not just the appearance of consciousness. Wouldn’t that be frightening? How would you know?) I would still expect that system to “die”. The horizons would just be longer.

  5. Jane Huang says:

    A good number of transhumanists and other people who want to abolish death have thought about whether death makes life more meaningful. They generally see such romanticization as a coping mechanism. I’d tend to agree with them. We’ve already removed the threat of death from everyday life for normal citizens of industrialized nations and reduced it to a fairly abstract phenomenon that mostly concerns only cancer patients and people several decades older than you are. If you really think death gives life meaning, then it’s too late–day to day life is already lacking in meaning. But many of us are coping fine without the threat of death lurking around all the time, so it really does seem unnecessary.

  6. It feels like this article uses the implicit argument that “if we can explain the psychological reason for this urge, we can dismiss the results of it”. But of course, as others have pointed out, this turns back around on the author. It then becomes a case of each side claiming the other is unable to deal with death, and is engaging in coping mechanisms of reality-denial.

    I posit that all are unable to deal with death, all are engaging in coping mechanisms, and thus the only thing that matters are the facts.

    It would seem the facts would support the eventual ability to extend life to arbitrary limits, as allowed by the laws of physics. Of course, all future technological development is speculation, but I’ve yet to see an argument that doing so would actually be impossible.

    • I agree with you that most people struggle to cope with the end of their existence.

      However, the laws of physics don’t suggest that life can go on indefinitely. When we talk about “life” and machines, were essentially talking about human consciousness, right? What is consciousness though? Pretending to know more than we really do about the nature of consciousness is dangerous, especially when we can reinforce our illusions about it through the use of overly simplistic analogies in computing.

      • Greg,

        I want to say that I appreciate you bringing this stuff up in public discussion.

        I think the problem is conflating “immortality” with life extension. Immortality is like infinity – you can always count higher, but you can’t ever grasp it.

        Similarly, science doesn’t suggest immortality, but it doesn’t give us any reason to think we can’t extend lifespans by another 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, etc. It’s a technological problem.

        Of course, speculating on technology is just that, and it makes sense to have some common-sense skepticism. On the other hand, a lot of common sense has been increasingly wrong.

        • Micah, thanks for your politeness and for making this such an interesting discussion. It’s entirely possible for reasonable to disagree about philosophical issues.

          Perhaps we agree on more than you initially thought. I’m not opposed to humans living longer, healthier, and more fulfilling lives. I’m simply opposed to the dehumanization that often occurs when people worship machine intelligence. I’m all for revamping our food system and lifestyles to mesh with our evolutionary roots.

          As for your last point, I couldn’t agree more!

  7. For something that “explores the intellectual origins of the modern transhumanist movement in painstaking depth,” does it mention science fiction, or humans’ attempts to predict the future, or the myths and stories about immortality that are the cultural backdrop for many different movement that touched on immortality? Did the book trace a unique intellectual lineage from proponents of eugenics to early transhumanists?

    If the worst has occurred, and the answers are “no, no, no and no,” then the book would simply seem to be a historical analogy. “These guys thought immortality would be good and could be achieved by some method, and they were jerks. Therefore, thinking immortality is achievable and good makes you a jerk.”

  8. “death gives meaning to life” and similar phrases aren’t arguments – they’re silly word games that try to pass off shotgun-blasts of connotation as meaningful statements.

    • “There are remarks that sow and remarks that reap.” -Ludwig Wittgenstein

      Brian, that phrase is not a formal argument, but it’s a claim. What’s your counterclaim? I would argue that your comment reeks of the very same “word games” that you accuse me of.

      • My claim is simple: death does NOT give meaning to MY life.

        I don’t get more enjoyment from experiences knowing that I’ll only have a finite amount of them. The spectre of death does not constantly drive me to improve myself or to have new experiences or to treat everyone with kindness. I rarely think about death at all, it’s difficult to see how it could be a source of meaning. And after I decided to be frozen, thus giving me the only real shot at immortality that currently exists, I didn’t fall into an existential crisis or deep depression – if anything, knowing that I have a chance (however small) to see a fantastically amazing future has inspired me to work harder and to do more, and has made me happier than I was before when I knew that, no matter what I did, I’d be dead in less than a century.

        It’s possible you have some other concept of meaning that I haven’t addressed, AND that you have strong arguments for why I should it accept it over the preferences I currently have, AND that you have strong evidence that such a concept would actually make me happier than I would be if I lived for (say) billions and billions of years. I find this unlikely (one, it’s astonishingly difficult for preferences to be wrong; two, you haven’t even done the simple task of defining your basic terms such as “meaning”), but I’m certainly willing to hear whatever arguments you have.

        It’s also possible that you only meant that death gives meaning to YOUR life. If so, I have no argument with you – construct whatever preferences you wish.

        • What is life? I suppose we could debate semantics, but I think you’re right: it’s tough to get anywhere when we are arguing about differences in meaning and in subjective notions of value. You have every right to pursue happiness so long as you don’t harm others in the process, so if the thought of being frozen upon your death aids you psychologically by making you happier, then more power to you.

    • No, it is not. It is the former life of the dead which is meaningful and as such it has been appropriated by all cultures. They turned the lives of the dead into great ancestral heroes or paradigmatic lives which are worth an interpretation and lecture, like that of the famous philosophers or scientists. The opposite is true as well and the great rogues, as they are dead, are meaningful, maybe even more so. Of course the lives of the dead aren’t free from ambiguities, but since their story has ended, the ambiguities can’t grow indefinitely. Individual lifes had the chance to not be completely arbitrary.

      All of this shaped the human world up to some point which might have become obsolete. Since our lives don’t have a chance to become meaningful at all and we negate everything that supersedes us, there is little we can do other than survive indefinitely and live the asexual lives of worker ants or protozoa. Life becomes amnesic or a hoarding process that can’t get rid of anything it had once accumulated. Actually it’s a combination of both.

  9. “If God did not exist, he would have to be invented.”

    – Voltaire

    P.S. “If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor.”

  10. Undesired death is bad. Aging and decrepitude is bad.
    This is the simplest thing in the world on first glance.

    On second thoughts, the present society and even our present minds are not created for a world in which 10 billion people are immortal. But honestly speaking, that is a problem that we can solve after we have solved aging. We are dying every day for crying out loud! Minds, absolutely brilliant minds, are rotting with time, becoming more and more incapable of the sheer joy of truly grokking a new idea. This is the holocaust that we cannot see because death has been with us forever. We are babies born in Auschwitz and are conditioned to believe that the world has always been this way and will always be this way.

    But on investigating the natural world, we’ve found hydra, bowhead whales, salamanders and all sorts of organisms that somehow overcome what seems to us as impossible. They have been created by the same random process that made us and somehow they are able to delay the grim reaper or do regeneration like we can only dream of. We are made of the same stuff as them and someday, if we learn to tweak the right combinations, we can live much longer.

    But of course, none of this even compares to true immortality – the ability to copy the mind-state on to much more solid strata. The science here is on shakier ground. But it is an extremely interesting point of view. Maybe its because of me being an ex-hindu that I am comfortable with the idea of my soul reincarnating in a different body, but I don’t see the issue if the body, mind and environment are all well simulated.

    There are a whole lot of things in the world to learn and do. Countless stuff in the world that you would really love if you could have tried it. A very long life gives us chances that a 85 year long existence, in which you’re already started degrading from the age of 23, cannot give.

    And of course, if you have become tired of life in your six millionth year, you always have the option to go gently into the night.

    • Prakash, I largely agree with almost everything you’re saying. Are you a fan of Dr. Aubrey de Grey? (see my comment above about his book titled Ending Aging)

      I too think that humans can use science to lead longer, healthier, and richer lives. As I’ve said before, it’s quite a leap, however, to think that we can actually transcend forces that we don’t understand.

      • Yes, I am a fan of Aubrey de Grey and believe he is doing very important work.

        You’ve also spouted deathist clichés like “Death gives meaning to life”, but if you agree with what I am saying, I don’t understand where our inferential gap is coming from.

        Is your reluctance only towards cybernetic immortality and not biological immortality? That is just an aesthetic choice. Please read about the thought experiment about the replacement of neurons with the nanobots. When do you cease being you? As long as the pattern continues, how does it matter what is it instantiated on? And given an option to move to a more reliable hardware, I personally don’t understand why anyone would refuse.

        Or do you believe that there is no way we would be able to solve death? Then, I would say you should read Aubrey DeGrey’s book and get an idea of the concepts like the methuselarity (previously he called it longevity escape velocity). We may not be able to do it now, but we can get closer with time.

        • I should have specified that I agreed with you specifically about the notion of living longer and healthier biological lives.

          Anyway, baked into your first set of questions is the assumption that the exact same experience of biological consciousness can be replicated in silicon. I think this is where we run into trouble because I don’t buy that assumption. If that assumption is not true, then it’s not merely an aesthetic choice.

          Consciousness is mysterious and I’m not going to pretend that I can adequately answer your metaphysical questions, but I do think that there is something inherent to consciousness that cannot simply be transferred over to silicon.

          Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading Aubrey De Grey’s book and would be happy to discuss it with you after I’ve read it.

          • Consciousness is mysterious and I’m not going to pretend that I can adequately answer your metaphysical questions, but I do think that there is something inherent to consciousness that cannot simply be transferred over to silicon.

            I’m curious what you think this is or what your evidence is. Moreover, what would convince you otherwise.

            I’m particularly curious if you woke up tomorrow in a robotic body and someone explained that you had been in a severe car accident and had had been transferred into a computer, how would you react?

          • Thank you for your polite responses, Greg.

            I am not an organic chemistry chauvinist and don’t think that there is anything special in organic chemistry that is responsible for consciousness. For me, life is life, whether clad in scales, shell, fur, feather, keratin or in the future, crystals and chips.

            For your sake and mine, I do hope that the forces of technological advancement prioritise the biological repair of bodies so that in the future, we can see hard evidence that it is impossible to distinguish between a consciousness that is biological and one that is not. Then, perhaps, you might consider getting your brain scanned for storage of your mind.

          • Joshua, no one can adequately define what consciousness is without running into philosophical troubles. Do you care to enlighten me with definition free of philosophical troubles?

            I’m not sure how I would react to that situation. However, I’m pretty sure of one thing, i.e., I won’t be waking up in a robotic body tomorrow.

        • Thank you for your polite responses as well. Disagreements that remain civil are a rare thing on the Net. Anyway, you bring up some interesting points that I’ll definitely be thinking about more in the future.

  11. I think you’re over-reaching your discussion here. Some people ascribing to the view that death somehow gives life meaning doesn’t mean that that’s instantly truth. You’re a student — you should know the value of demonstrating your claims! All you’ve really done is said how you feel, not explained why you think that’s a reasonable way to feel. Which is fine if that’s your goal, but there’s a lot of words in here for that to be the intent.

    • Davin, this short piece is an essay that reviews a book. Naturally, it is full of opinions. I definitely realize that there are many points of contention in the piece. If you care to specify exactly where you disagree, I’d be happy to reply.

      • Interesting, I thought you were just using the book as a scaffold for the discussion. It’s not entirely clear that you’re reviewing a book.

  12. I’m curious if you will have the same attitude about death after you lose a loved one. It is curious how much when people have lost others they don’t feel that way. The terribleness of death is reflected by how much people lie to themselves and declare that there’s an afterlife where they will be happily reunited with their loved ones.

    The scientific quest for immortality, however, can trace its roots back to the psychical investigations that began in the late nineteenth-century

    I can’t tell if this is your point or is Gray’s point but this seems to be inaccurate. The psychic investigations were trying to determine if there was some form of pre-existing immortality. They were not in a quest for immortality. Moreover, similar ideas were discussed by thinkers well before the medium fad arose. Look for example at Ben Franklin lamenting that he did not exist in era of advanced enough science for him to be preserved and restored. Moreover, both classical European and Chinese alchemists tried desperately to achieve immortality.

    The entire notion that evolution is in some way teleological also seems misguided. Evolution works in the short-term. That’s why in some rare contexts it is actually possible for species to evolve to extinction. Diseases can wipe out their hosts for examples. Evolution has no teleology, it just is. And to pay attention to it for any sort of moral or teleological relevance at all makes about as much sense as considering a the laws of thermodynamics to have teleological significance.

    I’m also unimpressed by your use of non-neutral language which does the work of connotations without substantial denotations. Saying that they are trying to “cheat death” brings to mind something like those wretched “Final Destination” movies or something similar. And those who disagree with you will have a simple response:

    Death is not some personality which can be cheated. She’s not a happy-go-lucky Goth with a teardrop tattoo who quotes Mary Poppins. He is some skeletal reaper who comes beckoning with his flesh-stripped hand. Death is not Death. Death just is. It makes about as much sense to speak of cheating death as it does to speak of using nuclear reactions cheating the law of conservation of mass.

    Gray’s book sounds interesting. However, to think that the history of the ideas has almost any connection to whether they are correct is to commit a fallacy. Ideas can come from any source. Their validity is independent of where they arose from. When you speak of his book being “utmost importance if we are to really understand what it means to be human” it sounds strongly like you are engaging in the genetic fallacy. (The fact that some of the claims about where the ideas in question actually came from seem to be wrong is of course incidental to this issue.)

    Transhumanists seem to me to be wildly optimistic about where technology in the near future will go. But if pieces like this are the best resemblance of decent philosophical argument against them then I might have to start identifying as one.

    • 1) Please don’t put words in my mouth. I’m not glorifying death in any way. Losing loved ones is a difficult thing and I can sympathize with anyone who has gone through that experience. However, I think it’s a shame when people squander the one life they actually for a belief in some afterlife or in immortality. Of course, I’m not implying that all believers in these things squander their life, but some certainly do.

      2) I’m not a historical expert on this subject and I was simply reiterating what was in the book.

      3) You wrote: “Evolution has no teleology, it just is.” I agree entirely. Perhaps you misunderstood what I meant by the “teleological implications”, i.e., there are is no human-centric meaning or purpose inherent in evolution.

      4) The phrase “cheating death” is a phrase Gray chose to use in the subtitle, so you’ll have to take that issue up with him. You wrote: “Death just is. It makes about as much sense to speak of cheating death as it does to speak of using nuclear reactions cheating the law of conservation of mass.” Exactly, I think that’s the point. It’s an act of hubris to think you can avoid something that “just is” — right?

      5) You wrote: “Ideas can come from any source. Their validity is independent of where they arose from.” I absolutely agree and I never suggested otherwise. When I wrote that his book is of utmost importance I was merely projecting an opinion. Am I not allowed to do that in a book review or something?

      6) Again, this was roughly a 1,000 word book review, not some philosophical masterpiece.

      Now, I’ll ask you a couple of questions. If I don’t believe in the Rapture is the onus on me to prove that it won’t happen or is the onus on the believers who think it will happen? Similarly, if I don’t believe in Santa Claus is the onus on me to prove that he doesn’t exist or is it on the believers in Santa to prove that he does exist? If you think it’s the latter in both of these case — why isn’t the same thing true of those who believe in the possibility of immortality? All of the evidence we have thus far shows that death is unavoidable.

      Again, I’m not glamorizing death; death is a sad thing, but there hasn’t been a shred of evidence that has led me to believe that is unavoidable. What evidence do you have?

      • You’ll have to forgive me but the end point sounds pretty close to glorifying death. If you don’t mean that death is a good thing at the end then you may want to say so explicitly. The simplest wording of it certainly sounds that way.

        2- ok. In that case I’ll simply say that Gray seems to be wrong.

        3) Ah ok. No disagreement then. But in that case I’m confused by what you mean when you say that Wells failed to grasp the teleological implications and spoke of seizing control of evolution. It is especially true that many post Darwin people didn’t realize that evolution had no teleology, but it is precisely that sort of thing that makes what Wells is talking about reasonable. One can control evolution (indeed the domestication of the dog and many other species shows that humans can do this surprisingly easily).

        4- No, on the contrary, things that just are are avoided all the time. Children dying in infancy for almost all of human history has been something that just is. And we’ve beaten it. Families still have children who die in infancy, but it is by far the exception rather than the rule. Similarly, polio and smallpox just are and yet they’ve been eradicated. If hubris is trying to eradicate bad things that just are then hubris is a good thing and something that humans have succeeded at.

        5- I find this confusing. If you think that where ideas come from isn’t important to the validity of ideas then how can a book about the history of certain ideas about humans be important for understanding what is human?

        Now, I’ll ask you a couple of questions. If I don’t believe in the Rapture is the onus on me to prove that it won’t happen or is the onus on the believers who think it will happen?

        I think there are a variety of differences. But certainly part of it hinges on what one means by immortality. I don’t think most transhumanists mean anything longer than a few billion years, rather than immortality per se. With “immortality” in that context, one of the critical distinctions between different predictions is whether they fit with the known laws of physics as far as we can tell. In this context, claims about immortality are very different than claims about the Rapture or Santa Claus.

        But this really isn’t terribly relevant to what I was saying since nothing I said commented on the plausibility of their goals, but rather the philosophical issues.

  13. Fetterkey says:

    Gray says that immortality would take meaning from life, but I would respond that the years and years of potentially meaningful growth and experience taken away from us by death constitute a much greater loss of meaning at present than the loss of meaning we might suffer from no longer having to contend with death.

    Ultimately I think this question will be resolved by science, not philosophy– if and when de Grey or his intellectual successors actually manage to achieve greatly extended lifespans, we will see whether dehumanization proves to be as much of a spectre as Gray seems to think. Personally, I predict that, if the transhumanists succeed in their endeavors, many who currently hold that “death gives life meaning” will renounce that belief.

    • Ultimately I think this question will be resolved by science, not philosophy

      Philosophy never “resolves” any questions. So yes, it will be first “resolved” by science, if anyhow, and then we get another solution by war.

      • Fetterkey says:

        I disagree– the question “is justified true belief knowledge,” for instance, was resolved (in the negative) rather strongly by Gettier. This just isn’t the type of question that philosophy is well-suited to resolve– it’s the type of question that is essentially a neuroscience/biology experiment that has yet to be conducted.

  14. “that without death we cannot truly have life”

    An intriguing statement. Presumably, transhumanists either reject a definition of life that would fit this statement, or they believe in some kind of consciousness beyond the limitations of life.

    Is the statement simply hippy bullshit, ancient wisdom, truism or some obvious fallacy? Does anyone know of a name for this kind of argument?

    It seems to be different from matters of degree: no rich without poor, etc.

    Perhaps it’s a little closer to “anyone who will trade freedom for security deserves neither”.

    Or perhaps, without the possibility of betrayal, there is no trust.

    In our present condition, death would appear inevitable, and either we accept grief, and joy (say, at the birth of a child), as part of our condition, something to be celebrated as utterly human, or we seek to reduce the impact of the highs and lows. Might there be no joy without grief?

    That we might carry the human mind beyond its human form seems unlikely. What it would mean to become something beyond human… I don’t suppose we have any way to anticipate that.

  15. The Satan Force says:

    I have not fully read all of the comments, so please forgive me if this has already been touched on. The whole “Teleological Evolution” movement seems to be one long reification fallacy that has been put in place to give Man meaning, seeing how we have so effectively killed God, both the anthropomorphized version in Christianity and the Enlightenment version (Providence).

    I believe that guys like Kurzweil, and Kevin Kelly who seek to reify (and thus deify) evolution and information are making the mistake of trying to re-enchant the Western World with Science with a capital ‘s’. If they , like me, walked home everyday, pass the cokeheads, and the no-hopers, and the empty suits, they would that physical death may sometimes be better than the emotional and psychological death experienced by a lot of people in our society.

    If the new God that they seek to make cannot give people purpose and meaning in their lives, then they would have just run into the same problem, unsolved by Christianity or humanism – people who are alive, but not actually living. To me, that is a fate worse than death.

    • Great points — I definitely agree with you here! Perhaps what many transhumanists really want is to find a way to improve the human experience rather than immortalize it.

  16. The Satan Force says:

    I am afraid that after reading the rest of the comments and other sources about transhumanism, the situation is worse than I previously thought, as that particular “community” is filled with nerds, and their accompanying ideologies of nerdism and techno -fetishism. One of the main signs of these ideologies is the notion that a qualitative problem (quality of life) can be solved by a quantitative one (indefinite lifespan), when all that may happen is that you will be living very, very suckily for a very, very long time. Taleb may have been wrong about many things in “The Black Swan”, but he was right about the Tyranny of the Nerds, that intense inside of the box thinking that does not allow them to see other perspectives.

    With regards to the question of whether indefinite lifespan (or any other technology) is a desirable , ask the following questions:

    1) What is the problem that this technology is meant to solve?
    2) Whose problem is this?
    3) What new problem will be created when the original is solved?
    4)Which people and institutions might be most seriously harmed by a technological solution?
    5)What changes in language and culture are being enforced, and what are being lost?
    6)What types of people and institutions acquire social, economic and political power because that change?

    Let us say that we manage to solve the Hayflick limit, perhaps through the manipulation of HeLa cells or something. What type of society would then emerge as a result? Would immortality be a sort of scarce resource? Or would it be used to create a sort of caste system? Or would we all go to the doctor for our immortality shots? And would the immortal be allowed to have children – we are at 7 billion people already.

    This is not say that I am against tech that improves quality of life. Regenerative medicine, artificial nervous systems and gene therapy will surely continue the march of medicine in the battle against human suffering. But the transhumanist seems to believe that technological solutions like indefinite lifespan will solve even social problems such as poverty, slavery, crime and family breakdown. It will not. Technology cannot solve the human condition, or the posthuman condition that would inevitably follow.

    In 1849 the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote his existential classic “The Sickness Unto Death”. In it he begins by examining Lazarus’ resurrection, and elaborates that his physical death was irrelevant , as the Christian lives forever. What matters is a “spiritual death” – one lost in inauthenticity and bad faith. Had Kierkegaard lived in our time, I believe that he would been writing about how meaningful growth would come only from find something meaningful, something greater than ourselves, such as a religion, a lover , a cause, or impending death

    • One of the main signs of these ideologies is the notion that a qualitative problem (quality of life) can be solved by a quantitative one (indefinite lifespan),

      Not at all. Transhumanists don’t want the quality to go down either. They want a long-life of high quality, as most people do. Presumably you’d prefer a high quality life for 80 years to a high quality life of 50 years. But if someone said you were confusing quantity of quality they’d be wrong.

      You bring up a good set of questions, so let’s address them briefly:

      What is the problem that this technology is meant to solve?

      We don’t live very long. Even some turtles live longer. And much of our lifespan especially towards the end we have diminished physical and mental capacity.

      Whose problem is this?

      Everyone’s.

      What new problem will be created when the original is solved?

      Uncertain. This is to a large extent a function of what other policies we have and what other technologies. Some people claim that overpopulation will be more of an issue but this is unlikely. The current overp0pulation problem is due to a lot of births not due to people not dying. Moreover, as lifespan increases, birthrate goes down.

      There are other more serious problems. One is that people may get locked into specific societal structures and norms. If for example we had discover in 1900 ways of greatly extending lifespan, how likely is it that in the US there would still be segregation? It is possible that long lifespans could prevent societies from improving their moral systems.

      Another issue is that there’s some argument that in the sciences people need to die off for a new paradigm to take hold. Thus, immortality may cause our sciences to stagnate. This seems off to me. First, the argument that people need to die off for things to take hold is empirically only true for a small fraction of the population. For example, in the chemical revolution, Joseph Priestly stayed a resolute defender of phlogiston to his death, but other people, even people who were about as old as he was moved on. Similarly, when Einstein discovered special relativity, while there were some holdouts the vast majority of working scientists simply adopted it.

      There’s a related issue that people may not be able to learn new ideas or new skills as their brains get older. However, the goal in question is not to make near immortal brains that think like the brains of seventy year olds. The goal is to make brains that think like 20 or 30 year olds.


      4)Which people and institutions might be most seriously harmed by a technological solution?

      Too early to tell in detail. But mortificians and similar jobs will probably have problems. Homes for the elderly will similarly go out of business. Since most of medical care is devoted to the last year of life, it is possible that the medical establishment will become much smaller. But that may be a function of how difficult the anti-aging treatments are and how expensive they are.

      What changes in language and culture are being enforced, and what are being lost?

      Well, mourning rituals will obviously change or become much smaller. I see no other obvious cultural changes being enforced (other than the problem of culture potentially stagnating in a way similar to the moral stagnation discussed above). But frankly, cultural stagnation isn’t a big deal compared to having people not have to bury their parents and siblings.


      What types of people and institutions acquire social, economic and political power because that change?

      Too early to tell. One obvious danger is that people who are already very powerful will be able to hold on to that power for much longer. Another obvious danger is that given that much of the world has copyrights for author’s life +K where K is a constant depending on the country and medium of the work, many things will simply never leave copyright unless this is changed. But note that the existence of long-lived corporations which lobby for continual copyright extension (Disney in particular) is already doing this. That’s why the oldest things in the US that are still copyrighted date to 1923.

      But the transhumanist seems to believe that technological solutions like indefinite lifespan will solve even social problems such as poverty, slavery, crime and family breakdown. It will not. Technology cannot solve the human condition, or the posthuman condition that would inevitably follow.

      No, but technology can help solve a lot of these. The poor person today in the United States for example has a longer lifespan than a generic person a a few hundred years ago. And slavery became less popular in the West in part because new technologies made it not economically viable. In general, as technology has improved, the levels of violence in societies have gone down. These are problems which while they cannot be completely solved solely by technology, they are problems where technology definitely helps.

      In 1849 the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote his existential classic “The Sickness Unto Death”.

      The transhumanists would tell you that Kierkegaard is full of it. And they’d be right. The claim that the Christian lives forever is extemely likely to be wrong. Moreover, if it were correct it would be a reason to have all the same concerns that you still have. Claiming that one form of immortality is ok but the other form isn’t simply because one occurs in a vague nebulous realm which we have no strong evidence of is not good. If anything, this reinforces the transhumanist point that immortality is pretty. Moreover, even if your hypoethical modern version Kierkegaard were real, the fact that the argument is coming from a famous philosopher would not in any way contribute to the validity of the argument. And even if we do listen to your imagined modern version and if the impending death cause goes out of the way, the others on your list don’t.

      • The Satan Force says:

        With regards to your answers to my six questions:

        1) What is the problem that this technology is meant to solve?

        What you are seeming to describing are anti-aging and longevity techniques, not that of indefinite lifespan technology. The former techniques would of course be desirable, especially if they can manufactured cheaply , but I hear no one in the general public angsting over not being able to live forever – they just want to live well. This seems to be because all societies have created a series of moral codes and guidelines as how to best live a life, and then enshrined these codes in to their culture. And it has been this way since Oedipus defeated the Sphinx. Because people are quite accepting of there finite lifespans (perhaps a poll may prove me wrong) indefinite lifespan seems to be a solution need of a problem – unless you’re a futurist.

        And Warface the Turtle laughs at you.

        2) Whose problem is this?

        The ravages of old age are indeed everyone’s problem. But not their main problem. Assuming a finite supply of funds, I believe that it would bee better to look into neurobionics, prosthetics, even head and brain transplants a la Ghost in the Shell. But again, I see no one but transhumanists caring that they wont live forever.

        3) What new problem will be created when the original is solved?

        I completely agree with most of your answer. But if speculation may permit, would an immortality based on telemere therapy lead to a form of supercancer? What about superviruses, that we may not have a genetic therapy for? What are the disadvantages of evolution by artificial selection versus by natural selection?

        Your other answers mirror mine in some ways, or have been replied to. What I take issue most seriously with is that technical solutions, particularly when one factors in the rebound effect, not to mention the tradeoffs that we must negotiate with any technology. Here is Freud on the matter from Civilization and its Discontents:

        It prompts one to exclaim: Is it not then a positive pleasure, an unequivocal gain in happiness, to be able to hear, whenever I like, the voice of a child living hundreds of miles away, or to know directly a friend of mine arrives at his destination that he has come well and safely through the long and troublesome voyage? And is it nothing that medical science has succeeded in enormously reducing the mortality of young children,the dangers of infection for women in childbirth, indeed, in very considerably prolonging the average length of human life?

        Even an Eeyore like Freud begins by detailing the great advances in life that technology has caused. But he does not fail to realize that there is a Faustian bargain between man and machine:

        If there were no railway to make light of distances, my child would never have left home, and I should not need the telephone to hear his voice. If there were no vessels crossing the ocean, my friend would never have embarked on his voyage, and I should not need the telegraph to relieve my anxiety about him. What is the use of reducing the mortality of children, when it is precisely this reduction which imposes the greatest moderation on us in begetting them, so that taken all round we do not rear more children than in the days before the reign of hygiene, while at the same time we have created difficult conditions for sexual life in marriage and probably counteracted the beneficial effects of natural selection? And what do we gain by a long life when it is full of hardship and starved of joys and so wretched that we can only welcome death as our deliverer?

        My main problem with transhumanists is that they seem to believe that their implicit assumptions are also held by mainstream society, when seem to be those of a few over-140 IQ, computer geeks with Messiah complexes. They do not seem to understand – or care – that others may think differently. There is an implicit belief that the brain is a computer, which is at least debatable and that simply bootstrapping biology and economics to Moores Law will cause us to cross a threshold into paradise. Those assumptions are, I believe, on very shaky foundations

        • What you are seeming to describing are anti-aging and longevity techniques, not that of indefinite lifespan technology. The former techniques would of course be desirable, especially if they can manufactured cheaply , but I hear no one in the general public angsting over not being able to live forever – they just want to live well.

          By and large the techniques to prolong lifespan indefinitely are the same techniques being proposed to give people indefinite lifespans. Moreover, the transhumanists argue (quite correctly) that people accepting their death and not desiring to live indefinitely is, to the extent that it exists, simply sour grapes of the worst sort. They’ve accepted that living forever is not so good. But note that even that acceptance only exists to a limited extent. Most major religions make a point of promising life eternal. There’s a reason for that.

          Assuming a finite supply of funds, I believe that it would bee better to look into neurobionics, prosthetics, even head and brain transplants a la Ghost in the Shell.

          Most of the transhumanists will agree that all of these are good things to work on also. So in that context the only disagreement would be the exact allocation of funds which is a difficult empirical question.

          I completely agree with most of your answer. But if speculation may permit, would an immortality based on telemere therapy lead to a form of supercancer?

          Note, that telomere extension as a means of life-extension seems not to work, so that approach has largely been abandoned. But if it did work, I’m not sure what you mean by a supercancer. Do you mean people would have very virulent cancer late in life? That’s not implausible, but as our anti-cancer treatments get better that could be handled also. And even adding a few decades of life would still be a good thing.

          What about superviruses, that we may not have a genetic therapy for?
          I’m not sure what this means. But I don’t see why any of these treatments would be inclined to make especially bad viruses.


          What are the disadvantages of evolution by artificial selection versus by natural selection?

          This seems like a much more interesting question. But in this context, the difference isn’t evolution by natural selection but evolution by artificial selection and genetic engineering. The short answer is that natural selection is much more short-sighted. Humans can deliberately select in the long-term. We’ve done so to make some extreme examples (look at dog breeds) but also some very practical examples (again look at dog breeds). As the genetic engineering part becomes more reliable, we can also import genes from one species to another or in the far future construct completely new genes. Evolution in such a context may likely be far faster than natural evolution. Whether that’s good or not is difficult. However, it is likely to be better than something like natural evolution which is totally blind. It is possible species to evolve themselves into dead ends from the blind forces of selection. If we can look ahead and plan accordingly, that’s a much less likely danger.

          I find the Freud quote to be deeply unpersuasive. I don’t consider Freud to be a useful authority on much of anything. And his entire approach in that context seems wrong-headed. His friend choose to take an ocean voyage. His child chose to take a railroad trip. That’s what technology leads to: more peace of mind. I live not that far from where I grew up. That’s a choice I’ve made. Others are free to make their own choices. That’s what technology at its best does: give people more options. The last bit of the Freud piece reflects more his own existential and emotional problems.

          My main problem with transhumanists is that they seem to believe that their implicit assumptions are also held by mainstream society, when seem to be those of a few over-140 IQ, computer geeks with Messiah complexes. They do not seem to understand – or care – that others may think differently. There is an implicit belief that the brain is a computer, which is at least debatable and that simply bootstrapping biology and economics to Moores Law will cause us to cross a threshold into paradise. Those assumptions are, I believe, on very shaky foundations

          I don’t think that most transhumanists assume that these ideas are shared by everyone. If they did, they wouldn’t feel a need to self-identify as a separate group, nor would they have their annoying tendencies to proselytize. I do think that most transhumanists probably think that most people if they sat down and carefully examined their preferences would come to agree with the transhumanists. In that respect, the transhumanists aren’t much different than any other ideological group. I don’t think they in general have Messiah complexes (although some of the leaders might). It is pretty hard to have a movement with everyone having a messiah complex.

          Regarding emphasis on Moore’s Law, that’s mainly the emphasis of a specific set of transhumanists, those who look towards a Kurzweil-style singularity. I agree that they are on very shaky grounds.

          Regarding the Kiekergaard issue (reply in a separate comment but I’m taking the liberty of replying here), I think the transhumanists have considered such questions and rejected them. They consider them to be holdovers, relics of the same sort of sour grapes mentality along with an unhealthy set of memes from the Abrahamic religions, especially Christianity.

          In general, it seems that there are two distinct issues here: 1) Are the transhumanists philosophically justified in what they want and 2) Are they correct about when/if we will have the technologies in question? I think you and I are in close agreement that the answer to 2 is “probably not”. The more interesting question to me, especially as it impacts where we should be putting resources is 1. In regards to 1, the transhumanists seems to be correct.

      • The Satan Force says:

        Moreover, if it were correct it would be a reason to have all the same concerns that you still have. Claiming that one form of immortality is ok but the other form isn’t simply because one occurs in a vague nebulous realm which we have no strong evidence of is not good.

        I had put Kierkegaard to show that those questions that we are now asking have already been asked, and that he believed that we could reach a compromise through a sort of “spiritual awakening”, to combat the despair and anomie that would inevitably result from a mortal now become immortal. I believe that he brings up questions and answers that are untouched by the transhumanists.

  17. Eric in Kansas says:

    This is just my opinion, but anyone who thinks that uploading their brain will approximate anything resembling “living” is not paying attention.
    If the only choice is an existence without surfing or dancing or even putting an apple to my lips, I would rather be dead.
    And don’t start with the Virtual Reality – there is an older and better word for that: masturbation.

    • Eric, and if in your new uploaded form you can get a robotic body that can surf and dance and bite an apple and feel it as sensuously as you could in your original?

      • Eric in Kansas says:

        Well maybe, but to say “as sensuously” is a gross oversimplification.
        Besides, this is a fantasy and will not happen in our lifetimes, or ever.
        Take fifteen minutes and meditate on the differences between an actual string quartet with real humans playing real instruments in your living room, versus a good recording played on a nice stereo. I admit that it would be better to hire the quartet and really have them show up in your living room, but a good imagination combined with your memories of past performances could possibly suffice for the purpose of this meditation.
        If this does not adequately illustrate my point then you need to move to the beach and take a year to get proficient at surfing.
        Perhaps you should do that anyway.

    • The Satan Force says:

      You can’t believe the irony of your virtual reality comment, seeing that one of the main luminaries of that field (and the man who invented the term “virtual reality”), Jaron Lanier, is one of the persons who is most against Singulatarianism, and even Web 2.0. See one of his presentations below

      http://zocalopublicsquare.org/thepublicsquare/2010/01/29/jaron-lanier-on-why-computers-wont-replace-us/read/the-takeaway/

  18. The Satan Force says:

    I do not believe that the transhumanists have proper philosophical justifications for their claims. In fact I will lump them with a set of subcultures that I would like to call the New New Age movements:

    Digital Physics
    Pop Atheism (Dawkins, Hitchens et al)
    Open Source Extremists (Stallman et al)
    Universal Darwinists
    Memeticians

    The above have overlap with, or have beliefs:

    – a confusion between Shannon information and the cultural definition of “information”

    – a confusion of information with knowledge

    – In the case of mind uploading and memetics – dualism. Cut and pasting the “mind” requires some nonphysical entity to be introduced, and will lead to, ahem……. “oddities” that cannot be explained without arbitrary rules. What is exactly, is the ontolological basis for memes ( I liked them better when they were called “ideas”)

    – a lack of suspicion of the “Idea of Progress “, the theory that advances in technology, science, and social organization inevitably produce an improvement in the human condition. Of course, the secularization that it brought to Europe is most admirably, bu the colonialism it brought everywhere else – not so much. The theory fails to factor in man’s irrationality and destructiveness.

    – and lastly, and most importantly, as it applies to all the above – the belief that the universal application of the methods of the natural sciences is the only worldview worth considering for human affairs. Yup. That dirty word. Scientism. God’s dead. Lets use science to give our lives meaning. never mind that whole is/ought problem.

    But the transhumanist specifically have not considered the problem of scientific discovery experiencing diminshing returns. Think about the progress made between 1900 and 1950, and 1951 and now. The West seems to be ina state of scientific regress. Where are the advances in space exploration, cold fusion, parallel computing, A.I., transportation and genetic engineering that we were promised 20 years ago? Where’s the WALRUS HULA and all those Mach 10 passenger planes?

    Lastly, and I think most damningly. is how the transhumanists ignore the negative externalities of technology development. Just look for example at Silicon Valley’s groundwater supply. Not to mention the need for coltan to manufacture mobile devices, which has been connected to conflict in the DRC, the (mis)management of E-Waste in 3rd world countries, and the energy expenditure of the server farms that power the Internet. The transhumanist does not propose anything that is sustainable, just more. Never mind tech such as clockless processors, tissue engineering and synthetic biology that could bring up the bottom billion of mankind to an acceptable standard of living. Instead, the transhumanist has a vison of heaven, that if you ask me, will end up more like WALL-E’s dumpworld

  19. (Kept coming back to this thread, compelled to write a very late post)

    First of all, impressive thread, hard subject, prone to succomb to Godwins Law.

    As Joshua pointes out, the interesting question is the philosophical one, which might be rephrased like this: We accept that dead stuff can stay that way indefinately, why them can’t living stuff?

     A few observations:
    – to sustain life/conciousness is considerably more demanding entropy-wise than to sustain death. So Thermodynamics is against life understood as classic biological selfsustainability.
    – as others have stated, the connection between feeling alive and being alive is not to be underestimated. By extension it can be argued, however, that the very notion of being alive is either a concept from the religious domain or a antropocentric pleonasm. Science has well known issues with establishing a coherent distinction between living and dead matter.
    – in a way transhumanism can be cosidered the next logical step from atheism.  It would seem absurd to imagine a transhumanist infer from his belief in God that eternal life is possible. Rather the transhumanist would infer the nonexistence of Life from the nonexistence of God.

    In summary, transhumanism has obvious religious traits and is to be viewed as a logical reaction to the equally religious green movement. And as with most dualisms, it is really more of a matter of two faces of the same coin.

    It is hardly a coincidence that the heavyhanded morale in JC’s Avatar is that the state-of-the-art technological transformation is the one that puts man back into nature.