Posts Tagged ‘Aubrey de Grey’


October 27, 2010

Finishing This Will Change Everything today, beginning the World Series (Go Giants!), and celebrating Older Daughter’s birthday. No more storm warnings, please.

Jonathan Haidt predicts future wars over “ethnically linked genetic variations in the ease with which people can acquire specific virtues,” beginning in around 2012. What he means, precisely, is hazy; but he says the variations in question won’t break down along neat or familiar racial lines. Key point seems to be that we’re a diverse species, and we’re finally going to have to come to terms with that. If we do, or if we don’t, it’ll be a new ballgame.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, whose name (but not its spelling)  flows like the absorptive state he celebrates, reminds us that the Doomsday Clock is ticking and we must attend to all the consequences of our science and technology. Nothing we do is pure, or for its own sake. In other words: our facts and our values are two sides of a common coin. We must turn the coin over and look closely. [walk & flow]

Austin Dacey says please pass the “cultured , in vitro” meat, Aunt Bea.

Richard Foreman says humans living fully in the present  would nonetheless continue to possess a future, albeit one “that is always imaginary and beyond us.” I think he’s for that, and it surely is hard to resist an expanded and enriched “present moment.” (“The sufficiency of the present moment” is what William James called “The Sentiment of Rationality,” or the feeling of being at home in the universe.)

Happiness, the new “self-esteem.” Betsy Devine seems not entirely for that. She joins the trending backlash against Positive Psychology (Against Happiness,The Case Against Happiness, Bright-sided) but this shall pass. And I shall teach Happiness 101 again, in the future.

There will come a time, says the amazing and astonishing Aubrey de Grey, when mechanical & digital human invention will have crested and we’ll be content (as a species) to rest on our laurels– “not motivated to explore further sophistication in our technology,” we’ll “focus on enriching our lives” the old-fashioned ways.  “Human  nature” will be exposed, we’ll finally know ourselves, and Aubrey resolutely expects to be there when it happens. No matter how long it takes.

The last word in this volume is Nicholas Humphrey‘s. “Nothing has changed everything.” Human nature is no dark mystery, so “be prepared for more of the same.” Hmmm.

But also, FoLers, be prepared to discuss You Are Not a Gadget on Monday. Today, be prepared for a presentation or two and an exam whose extra credit question is: “What will change everything? What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?” Sound familiar?

transhumanist piety

August 11, 2010

The new scientific quest for immortality is secular, not religious? Maybe that was hasty.

Jaron Lanier says these new seekers (Kurzweil, de Grey et al) are religious, too, motivated by the same aversion to death that has always populated the pews. In this light, Singularity University is the transhumanist mother-church.  Its core message?

One day in the not-so-distant future, the Internet will suddenly coalesce into a super-intelligent A.I., infinitely smarter than any of us individually and all of us combined; it will become alive in the blink of an eye, and take over the world before humans even realize what’s happening.

Some think the newly sentient Internet would then choose to kill us; others think it would be generous and digitize us the way Google is digitizing old books, so that we can live forever as algorithms inside the global brain. Yes, this sounds like many different science fiction movies. Yes, it sounds nutty when stated so bluntly. But these are ideas with tremendous currency in Silicon Valley; these are guiding principles, not just amusements, for many of the most influential technologists.

Well. If they’re talking about destruction– of humanity, individuality, subjectivity, personal consciousness– they can count me out.

But is that what they’re talking about? According to the Transhumanist Declaration, they

favour allowing individuals wide personal choice over how they enable their lives. This includes use of techniques that may be developed to assist memory, concentration, and mental energy; life extension therapies; reproductive choice technologies; cryonics procedures; and many other possible human modification and enhancement technologies.

Cryonics, eh? That raises a red flag (with Red Sox and a “B”) for me.

But who could be against “wide personal choice”?

singular future

August 10, 2010

Immortality. It’s not just for the religious, anymore.

You can matriculate at Singularity U. and major in it. Or something close. The curriculum includes programs in Futures Studies, bio- and nanotech, AI & robotics… but reading between the lines, the real subject at this school whose stated mission is to “address humanity’s Grand Challenges” seems to be the defeat (not just acceptance or understanding) of death. [“Merely Human? That’s So Yesterday“… Jaron Lanier on the “First Church of Robotics“]

Or you can line up with Aubrey de Grey to study “the strange science of immortality.” That’s the subtitle of Jonathan Weiner’s Long for this World, a page-turning account of the strange scientist who confidently predicts that humans will soon begin to live forever. [de Grey’s “manifesto“]

Unlike Chancellor/Trustee Ray Kurzweil, de Grey says he’s motivated not by dreams of personal immortality for himself or his kin– (he has no children, saying “anyone can have kids. I want to make a difference.”)– but to benefit humanity.

It sounds like fiction. It sounds, in fact, like Gary Shteyngart’s latest novel of a dystopian future in which people carry Orwellian smart phones so they can run instant background checks on each other and constantly monitor their credit ratings, and go to college to major in things like Images and Assertiveness.

“A cornerstone of the Post-Human Philosophy,” in the brave new world, is that if you really want to live forever you’ll find a way. The people who think this way, the narrator observes, are captivated by a singular “inability to grasp the present moment.”

Is there a sensible way we can inhabit the present, invest in the deep future, and genuinely study and advance the amelioration of the human condition? And do it without being kooky eccentric egocentric geniuses? That’s what we’re going to study in Future of Life, getting under way in just a couple of weeks at my own singular university.

Coming soon: “Atheism and spirituality”

July 31, 2009

“Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.” I’m looking ahead to a new course in the Spring (2010) semester.

First I was going to blaze trails, at least around these parts, with  Atheism Old & New. (Epicurus, David Hume, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Bertrand Russell are “old,” Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, and Shermer are among the more notable new.)

Then I thought it would be more politically prudent, in these troubled times for public education funding (and, frankly, with tenure in the balance) , to do a Spirituality course instead.

Now, reaching for a grand synthesis and throwing caution to the winds (but ducking the blow-back), I’ve decided that atheism and spirituality deserve each other. As William James pointed out, the absurdity of religion is matched only by the spiritual audacity of its intentions. “Although all the special manifestations of religion may have been absurd (I mean its creeds and theories), yet the life of it as a whole is mankind’s most important function.”

The religious impulse is inseparable from  what some have called elan vital or life force. That’s what spirituality is largely about: living, breathing, attending, caring, learning. Paying rapt attention to each present moment, one after another as conveniently measured by our restless, respiring consciousness. What does that get us? More life, we hope. “Not God, but more life” is our most natural human aspiration. Eternal life even, in the most audacious old dream.

Yet, James  informed a correspondent in 1901, his own sense of life was most quickened by the progressive epic of evolution. And it requires death. A lot of it. “I [am] incapable of believing the Christian scheme of vicarious salvation, and wedded to a more continuously evolutionary mode of thought.” Scratch 9 out of 10 atheists, you’ll find an evolutionist craving “more life.”

But more for whom? Is there sufficient consolation in the hope of a future life for humankind (and its unimaginably evolved spawn) at large?

sleeperOr must the saving life to come be mine, all mine? Recall Woody Allen on this point: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work or my children… I want to achieve it through not dying.” We’ll see how that works out for Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey de Grey. Well, perhaps somebody will see.

Evolution as salvation? That’s a proposition whose meaning and truth (or falsehood) a course on atheism and spirituality could have a lot of fun figuring out. Spiritual atheists and evolutionists do exist, after all, as do jaded believers and “Young Earth creationists” pantomiming the motions of a lifeless faith. (And don’t forget Francis Collins and the theistic evolutionists.)

although all the special manifestations of
religion may have been absurd (I mean its creeds and theories),
yet the life of it as a whole is mankind’s most important

Watch this space for course details. First, though, the new Fall course connects with spirituality too: would life be worth living, if we couldn’t pursue happiness?