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Human Enhancement is Normal

The ethics of human enhancement are tricky and often the first objection that I hear to technologically improving our minds and bodies is one of morality: why should some people get to become smarter and stronger while others do not? is it right to try to improve our god-given body? isn’t it dangerous to allow such technologies to develop?

Despite these objections the human race seems to be eager to step into this next phase. take exoskeletons for example. a couple of years ago I saw a video of an exoskeleton being tested for military use. Recently a paraplegic woman was able to walk a marathon using an exoskeleton (over the course of 17 days but hey, she can’t move her legs). I also saw that a little girl with a muscular disorder was given a 3d printed pair of arms to help her move.  and here’s another suit made by the Tokyo university of science which allows a person to carry substantially more weight.

No one’s asking if we should be doing this, and no one’s saying this isn’t right or natural. Of course, disabled individuals are the first to be helped by enhancement technologies, but not all of these suits are therapeutic. I think that we’ll see many more disabled individuals using exoskeletons to get around, and factory workers using suits and gloves.

If you’ve looked at some of these links you may have noticed that everyone but the story about the little girl references iron man. I’m not really going anywhere with that point, I just think it’s interesting.

Anyway, human enhancement is normal in our culture and I think there is good reason for this. We’ve really been enhancing ourselves ever since we could make tools and talk to each other, all technological progress has been human enhancement and what we are doing now feel in line with that process. I only wonder when we will reach the point when we realize that our enhancement is now actually radically changing who we are, and our tools are significantly more powerful and worrisome than what’s come before.

I personally experience the normality of enhancement in my own college environment. Study drugs (mostly aderall, coffee too) are widely used by college students to help focus and be more productive. The hyper-competitive academic environment encourages students to find ways to get an edge, and drugs are one of the easiest ways to do this. Students take these drugs without thinking about the moral implications for such actions, how such actions unfairly advantage the individual over the collective, making it so others have to take these drugs to remain competitive, like in professional sports. Of the dozens of students I’ve talked to about the morality of using study drugs, I’m the only one who feels strongly that taking these drugs is an immoral decision. My stance falls apart when people bring up coffee, a societally acceptable stimulant. Well, life is a sliding scale, what are you going to do about it? I prefer that we not ingest stimulants via pills. drinking bean juice seems better than prescription drugs.

So while I’m encouraged that humanity seems poised to jump into transhumanism and an enhanced existence, I’m also discouraged by how normal it is for my peers to take amphetamines. Perhaps this has not become a big enough issue to address, like doping in sports, but I really don’t want us to get to a crisis point in academia where the only way to make a meaningful contribution to human knowledge is by getting high on speed.

The problems I’ve explained here only really come up in the context of a competitive environment, and perhaps there is hope if capitalism collapses and we reorient our system. After all, learning and exploring should really not be a competition.

On the other hand, perhaps we will find a way to make our brains run faster without negative effects such as coming down from a drug or mental damage. It wouldn’t be so bad if we all just kept thinking faster and faster I suppose, I’m just not sure that amphetamines are a step in the right direction.

-Prometheus

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More Videos

I have decided to slowly revamp the video section on this blog. Eventually it will all be sorted well and contain all sorts of interesting things that you can procrastinate for hours watching, getting lost in the future when you’re bored with the present. For now here’s a nice new video from “Russia 2045” (the video will explain who they are, or you can go to 2045.com) 2045 is often the date people ascribe to the singularity, though interestingly enough the video and website never uses the word “singularity.” Anyway, here it is:

Did you notice that:

-the narrator says we are moving forward into the depths of the stars and “the infinite universe of our inner world”?

-they used the phrase “neo-humanity” instead of “post-humanity”?

-that spiritual development is seen as the focus of progress?

-that the avatar is shown dancing in nature?

-that the predictions end in after 2045?

from the predictions in the video, it really seems like the singularity will truly have happened before 2045, that all of the crazy things we can imagine will happen in 30 years or so. What happens after that is pretty much impossible to say.

comments?

-Prometheus

You Don’t Understand How Crazy the Singularity Is

And neither do I. I was talking about the singularity with some friends, one of which had just begun to think about the mind blowing implications of this transition, a friend who is very interested in music. He inquired whether I thought that after the singularity digital music will be able to perfectly simulate live analog music, and before I was able to reply “most definitely yes,” another friend did one better. He said that it’s not just that digital music will exceed the quality of live music, it’s that we will be able to augment our minds so that we can turn on music in our heads whenever we want to, and hear anything we want to.

This basically typifies the singularity. It is when the line between reality (analog) and the virtual (digital) stops existing, when computer simulations become real and our experience becomes anything we want it to be. X-ray vision, fine tuned hearing, eyes miles or light years away, these are all possibilities, and only the beginning. We will be able to do anything we imagine, and I am quite serious about this, because even if it’s not physically possible, we can construct a physical universe where it is possible. But it gets even crazier, because when you think about it, our brains are puny compared to what they will be after the singularity (down the line a bit), and our imaginations are stunted by the world we were born into. When we start crafting our own worlds in our own minds, we will be able to do more than we can imagine now.

People are talking about exoskeleton suits that soldiers will wear in the future, and others are looking further to talk about augmenting our very bodies to be more impenetrable, becoming invincible conscious robots. But it’s even crazier than that, the singularity is about transcending matter in ways we don’t understand yet, existing as pulses of information which augment the universe with no discernable bodies. People talk about us becoming like gods of Greek mythology, being able to wield great power to create and destroy, but it’s even crazier than that. Down the line consciousness will permeate the universe to such an extent that we may be the God of Christian mythology, a creator of everything, an omnipresent force which encompasses all that is, a universal consciousness.

That may not happen, but as I said before, my brain is currently too small to know what the possibilities are, and if it’s not possible in this universe, it will be in a universe we create ourselves, in our own minds.

 

 

-Prometheus

I Don’t Wear Shoes.

I don’t wear shoes first and foremost because my older brothers didn’t wear shoes when we were growing up, and we all continue to not wear shoes. This practice has been slowly transformed from childish playfulness into conscious lifestyle choice, and now I’m prepared to tell you why I am a barefoot man, and how this relates to the singularity.

Shoes are gloves for feet. They are extremely useful inventions, allowing us to walk over all sorts of sharp things, and generally not worry about what we’re stepping on. Shoes protect us and make us more productive, and therefore sound exactly like something I would like. But there are certain disadvantages to this technology for our spiritual well-being that I am not prepared to accept.

Most of the time our only physical contact with the ground beneath us is through our feet. It is through our feet that we directly feel our connection to the earth, by actually feeling the earth. Everything we step on is a load of experience, information that most have deprived themselves of with shoes. As we’ve taken up this technology of shoes, like any technology, we have come to rely on them. Our protected and coddled feet are to tender to walk on rocks or hot sand, and so we continue to wear shoes, worsening our state and driving us further from the earth we came from.

By now I sound like a pessimist, talking about how dehumanizing technology is. Well, I admit it, technology is dehumanizing, but as I’ve said before it doesn’t have to be. If I could extend my nerves into my shoes so that I could be protected and also feel the earth beneath me, I would wear shoes. When the singularity roles around and we begin to transcend our bodies, we’ll likely see people replacing entire limbs with stronger, better ones. I think that I would love to have a much stronger arm, but if it isn’t as sensitive or more sensitive than my previous arm, if it doesn’t feel, then it’s worthless to me. I already have tools that are much more powerful than my arm that I can’t feel, but I wouldn’t trade my arm for a hydraulic lift, so why should I trade it for a prosthetic that can’t feel?

These values are fragile, of course, and I have no idea how feelings will survive after the singularity. I also know that if shoes were invented today, I would probably get them because they would improve my productivity, and I really am just desperately holding onto one aspect of primitive humanity in a world of modernity.

This desperation has occurred to me, and I have often wondered if our drive for efficiency and perfection will inevitably lead us to stop feeling, to fade ourselves out of existence. This is a question that I simply have to think more about.

But moving on, being barefoot is a consciousness expanding experience for more reasons than the added sensory information and personal connection to the earth. The choice not to wear shoes is an odd one in this society, and therefore puts me in situations which are challenging and, as a result, also mind expanding. People are genuinely surprised to see me barefoot, and often inquire about it, wondering how I manage to go without shoes. Mostly I just remind them that humans lived for millions of years before inventing shoes, so it’s obviously possible. Other people get downright angry about my expression of difference (or indifference). Last year I was eating at a chipotle for lunch and a middle aged lady walked up to me and told me it was illegal for me to not wear shoes in a place which serves food, and that “my husband is a cop and he could give you a ticket for that.” I had no idea how to respond, between saying “fuck off” and laughing at her.

What I have learned through this interaction and other similar ones is how confused most people are about hygiene (and this is something I will definitely write about later). Somehow people believe that a lack of shoes is unhealthy, and I’m not entirely sure why. After all, everything that I have on my feet would be on my shoes and therefore the floor if I was wearing shoes, so there’s no conceivable harm I can cause to others unless I somehow have a communicable foot-disease. I understand when I get kicked out of a store because they are afraid I might get harmed by a piece of glass on the floor or something (though In all my years I have never been cut by glass on my feet), but I’d rather take that responsibility unto myself.

And yes, I do get foot injuries. I get an average of one bee sting on my feet every two years, I step on thorns almost every day, I cut myself on sharp rocks, and people step on my feet because they have shoes and therefore don’t need to care about what they step on. Suffering is a part of life, and you cannot separate it from existence, it serves to remind us of how wonderful it is to not be suffering. I take the bee stings and am thankful for every day I don’t get one.

As for restaurants, I’ve learned to pick my battles and wear shoes where they are required by law (at least where it will probably be enforced). After all, it is unfair of me to put workers in the awkward situation of having to enforce a rule against someone that they might not even agree with. The rest of the time I try to change those rules by making people more aware that not wearing shoes is OK. I’d like to finish with a pertinent quote from Gandhi, a man who I, like most people, admire greatly. It comes from his autobiography, where he recounts the experience of gaining admittance into a law court in South Africa. Lawyers usually were required to remove their turbans to enforce a dress code which was discriminatory toward Indians:

“You must now take off your turban, Mr. Gandhi. You must submit to the rules of the Court with regard to the dress to be worn by practicing barristers.”

I saw my limitations. The turban that I had insisted on wearing in the District Magistrate’s Court I took off I obedience to the order of the Supreme Court. Not that, if I had resisted the order, the resistance could not have been justified. But I wanted to reserve my strength for fighting bigger battles. I should not exhaust my skill as a fighter in insisting on retaining my turban. It was worthy of a better cause.

Sheth Abdulla and other friends did not like my submission (or was it weakness?). They felt that I should have stood by my right to wear the turban while practicing in the court. I tried to reason with them. I tried to press home the maxim, “when in Rome do as the Romans do.” “it would be right,” I said, “to refuse to obey, if In India an English officer or judge ordered you to take off your turban; but as an officer of the Court, it would have ill become me to disregard a custom of the Court I the province of Natal.”

-Prometheus

Simpler Times

Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

Ecclesiastes 7:10

As soon as I got to college a couple years back I was confronted by throngs of anarchists. Each in there own way was unsatisfied with society, complaining that it was suffering from centralization and should be torn down to make way for something better. Phrases such as “neo-tribalism” and “primitive culture” were thrown around, and I was in the middle of it, finding myself in the odd position of defending the US government, Western civilization, and technological progress. I have held firm to my belief in the perfectibility of these processes, and this blog is one avenue for me to vent my frustrations with those who are frustrated with humanity.

What is it about primitive culture which is so appealing to us? What is it about “modern” society which leaves us wanting more? I would have to say that it’s everything I’ve talked about in this blog: loss of individuality, identity, and meaning in life. As we’ve grown more specialized in our functions we are forced to perform tasks which have increasingly affected us indirectly. We work in one place to make money to buy food in another place and buy a home somewhere else, and sometimes lose sight of what life is all about, what it is that makes us get up in the morning and get to work. Since the industrial revolution we’ve seen more suicides as meaninglessness encloses upon us.

Our state of affairs, when described in that light, looks pretty grim. Perhaps it would be best to stop all of this meaningless expansion and advancement, because after all it hasn’t made us happier, and likely has made us less happy. These advances have increased the potential for human suffering on this planet, allowing individuals in charge of governments to kill millions instantly, and economic imperialism to suck the energy from the less fortunate. Wasn’t it better when we couldn’t cause so much damage? When our war-proned psychology was checked by our limited power?

I of course concede those points, and yes, the world as a whole may have been happier before industrialization (or agriculture or whatever paradigm shift you want to point to), but that in no way means that we will not be happier again, and really, really doesn’t mean we should try to reverse our progress in some way, or delay our advancement.

First of all, there is logically no way to reverse technological progress. Progress is not a thing you can take apart just as it’s been built, the thoughts that brought us to where we are today still exist in us, and will always exist unless we deliberately take them from our heads. We humans have the knowledge/power to craft nuclear weapons, and we simply can’t go back. We can’t possibly tell everyone to forget how to use nukes, as someone will remember for their own advantage. We are competitive creatures, and we cannot make it in this world without the use of our technology. 10 years ago no one had GPS, now our country and world would be absolutely crippled if GPS ceased to function. We are forced to live with our knowledge, and trying to escape it will only be detrimental.

We could of course revamp our society and form tribal communities where we all work for our food and live a simple life of subsistence. I think that certainly more people should consider farming as a meaningful lifestyle, but I’m not sure what decentralization is supposed to accomplish. I guess you can have people with similar values to your own, but that’s already what countries are. The difference between centralization and decentralization is pretty irrelevant, and all that really matters is inter connectivity, basically the internet. There is absolutely no way to slow down the internet, and no matter what society we form at this point, we will all rapidly come together to form one mind.

Why do you think we left our tribes in the first place? Maybe first I should ask why we chose to live with each other rather than alone in the first place.  Alone in the wild, in a supposed pure state of nature, Hobbes describes “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” We come together to fix these things, to extend our life and enjoyment. We formed tribes. But tribal life is still brutish and short compared to what we have today, so we formed nation states, sciences, medicine, and so on, so that we could prevent the horror of seeing a loved one die before their time was through. We’ve created many problems by trying to defy death, but these problems are not insurmountable.

It used to be that we lived and died by our work, by our labor to hunt and till the fields. We also lived and died by our cohesion, our ability to defend against the evils of nature. We’ve gained mastery of our defenses and our food so that we don’t have to consciously be working toward the maintenance of our existence, and while this mastery has produced problems it should be seen as good. I hate living in a world where I have a responsibility to write essays for classes I don’t care much about, and where I don’t have the freedom to smoke weed where and when I want to, but these are sacrifices that I must make when entering into a social contract, and I would take this life any day over the life of a hunter-gatherer who could not be sure that he and his loved ones would live to see tomorrow. I dare an anarchist to go to a starving people and tell them that the answer to their problems is less cohesion. There is a necessary underlying privilege to anarchy, one must be unsatisfied with the life of ease they live in order to discard it.

We are in a bit of a rut right now with society, with billions living in poverty and millions starving because some sectors of society have advanced to the detriment of others. This is a sad state of affairs, but as I’ve said before, these problems are not insurmountable. The exponential power of technology inevitably will extend our love to these people. Gandhi remarked on several occasions that he disliked trains because they allow us to travel very quickly and evil spreads much quicker than good. Evil has been spread all over the world now in our Globalized society, and we simply need to wait for good to catch up, and it will. Love, Truth, and order always persevere in an existence characterized by entropy, and the only proof we need of this is our existence. Our intelligence has been converging and growing since the beginning of life on this planet, proof that even in an uncaring universe of chaos, order can and will inevitably increase.

-Prometheus