Nick Bostram on Taking the Future of Humanity Seriously

In the very first part of this 2007 article, Nick Bostram of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford writes:

Traditionally, the future of humanity has been a topic for theology.  All the major religions have teachings about the ultimate destiny of humanity or the end of the world.1  Eschatological themes have also been explored by big-name philosophers such as Hegel, Kant, and Marx.  In more recent times the literary genre of science fiction has continued the tradition.  Very often, the future has served as a projection screen for our hopes and fears; or as a stage setting for dramatic entertainment, morality tales, or satire of tendencies in contemporary society; or as a banner for ideological mobilization.  It is relatively rare for humanity’s future to be taken seriously as a subject matter on which it is important to try to have factually correct beliefs. -Nick Bostrom

Looking at it from this point of view, it does – at least in some way – seem relatively odd that given the speed of technological development, the future of humanity is still thought of as a topic primarily for science fiction.

What I’ve often found to be the case is that many of seemingly distant notions of what “could be” seem to be regarded similarly to walking on the moon would have been regarded in 1882. Absurd and essentially impossible. But we done up and walked that bad boy – a WHILE ago – and our general bias seems to be – despite the speed of progress today – that the general conditions will endure and tomorrow’s possibilities will not too far extend those of today.

In his article, Nick refers to four different “types” of futures of humanity:

  • Extinction
  • Recurrent collapse (Building up to a specific “level” of technological development before systems fail on a massive scale and we must begin almost all over again)
  • Plateau (Where essentially the speed of progress is halted by human resistance or by seriously complex issues which prevent posthuman development – which Bostrom poses as very unlikely)
  • Posthumanity (Defined below)

An explication of what has been referred to as “posthuman condition” is overdue.  In this paper, the term is used to refer to a condition which has at least one of the following characteristics:

  • Population greater than 1 trillion persons
  • Life expectancy greater than 500 years
  • Large fraction of the population has cognitive capacities more than two standard deviations above the current human maximum
  • Near-complete control over the sensory input, for the majority of people for most of the time
  • Human psychological suffering becoming rare occurrence
  • Any change of magnitude or profundity comparable to that of one of the above

This definition’s vagueness and arbitrariness may perhaps be excused on grounds that the rest of this paper is at least equally schematic.  In contrast to some other explications of “posthumanity”, the one above does not require direct modification of human nature.

Looking at a potential definition of posthumanity, is interesting to see a specific set of criterion in place that don’t necessarily involve us becoming a single glob of computational substrate – although it certainly doesn’t exclude that possibility. The individual criterion themselves bring to bare the question of the “how” in terms of our transition to posthumanity.

I think of the effective (by this I mean, beneficial to sentient beings) transition to posthumanity similar to the attainment of any goal – in that it likely involves the elements essential to attaining any goal, two of which being:

  • A higher but distinct vision (sometimes concrete, sometimes less concrete) of the objective of the goal attainment process
  • Specific steps identified for it’s attainment, often involving “phases” in addition to individual steps

In my opinion, seriously considering the Highest Vision of posthumanity, and considering the particular “Phases” used to attain it will be tremendously useful.

I believe it is important to not only envision the phases we’ll use to transcend our current human condition, but to also continually refine the VISION that this might be ultimately heading towards.

The vision might be anchored in a core Utilitarian or Epicurean belief system, where it is possible that the future will look like an infinite number of sentient, conscious computers experiencing the highest levels of pleasure imaginable (beyond human senses or imagination), with an additional system in place to enhance and replicate all of these computers.

Or, the vision might end up being anchored more off of the Transcendental (aptly named) vision, or something anchored in some notion of the notion of “Bildung” – with the purpose of the super-intelligence to be a continuous and urgent expansion beyond it’s current capacities – becoming infinitely larger, more versatile, and more connected.

Though the “vision” that the future of humanity will almost surely surpass any current human philosophy in it’s depth and complexity, it’s important for use to note that our original approach to “where we take this thing” will almost undoubtedly have massive consequences on where “this thing” ends up.

A topic to be explored in a lot more depth soon.

If you’d like to learn about Nick Bostram, visit his site: www.NickBostrom.com

-Daniel Faggella

Present Ideals Inspiring Future Ideals – and Vice-Versa

Does “Making the Most” of Our Biological Lives Provide Insight to How We Might or Could “Make the Most” of Our Technologically “Enhanced” Lives?

My greatest fascination in the past 7 years of my life has been in the understanding and execution of living one’s best life. This has involved cycles of introspection, the study of psychology, philosophy, pushing my own boundaries, and building a life around me that models, challenges and furthers my ideals.

The prospect of Transhumanism takes this concept of living one’s best life or “maximizing one’s potentials” to an entirely different realm of possibilities. Despite the apparent differences, it is my belief that the exercise of determining and living out our best life is a process that can mold or at least provide a well of insight into the ideal transition to transhumanism.

Presumably, if we can understand what our own best life is or is not (some of such insights may be more or less universal, others more particular per person), then we can better “enhance” and “edit” our capacities to make these changes beneficial to our fulfillment, or our flourishing (to take a common term from Positive Psychology).

Experiments in this domain would undeniably have to be carried out carefully (the entire transition to transhumanism must be deliberate in this way… the dystopian possibilities seem more clear than the utopian possibilities at this point) – but as a “though experiment” it seems fruitful to explore these potential enhancements.

We might, for example, determine the chemical sources of our unhappiness and determine how to “edit” those from our psychological processes. We might determine different constituents to our fulfillment and aim to construct enhancements to these faculties first. We might adjust our minds to eliminate sources of anger and hatred and promote a greater sense of collaboration and harmony.

Of course, any of the above “adjustments” could become the beginning of a great abomination – and a great detriment to living beings – just as it has the possibility of doing the opposite. Regardless, our scientific understanding of fulfillment and a “best life” (in addition to our reflections and philosophy thereof) will – in many ways – be our only “orientation” and building blocks of the future of sentient potential (that is, “conscious potential” that isn’t necessarily “human.”)

– – –

Can Our Ideas About “Making the Most” of a Technologically “Enhanced” Life Provide Insight to How We Live Our Biological Lives?

The transition to non-biological intelligence opens the door to possibilities of drastic changes in our human nature and circumstances that could move our lives closer to an ideal.

a) Eliminating What We Don’t Want

Ray Kurzweil paints a picture of a world where we can eat food without needing to pay attention to it’s nutritional contents. Biological alterations we might be able to live tremendously well from a series of pills, or with the necessity of nearly no common “fuel” at all – and eating could become an exercise in rich sensual experience and enjoyment. For a “foodie,” this would seem to be a wonderful transition.

We might imagine a world where we needn’t bother ourselves with tasks such as driving a car (it would drive itself, or teleport us), finding our wallet (we would automatically be able to sense where it was, or we could holographically produce it at any time), cooking food (what higher good are household robots for?), cleaning dishes (again, household robots), or any other wide variety of tasks.

It is my belief that allowing our minds to wander with regards to these “future ideals” of transhuman, “enhanced” life is an activity that can educate and instruct us on how we might live closer to those ideals now, and so make them “present ideals.”

For example, if one truly does not enjoy or see a value in cleaning dishes or driving oneself here and there, or preparing food (I use these examples because I choose to limit my involvement with these tasks myself), then should we not aim to escape these tasks now?

b) Enhancing What We Do Want

Looking into the future of enhancing human life and intelligence is obviously not just about eliminating tasks or elements of life that we find annoying or detrimental, but about enhancing that which we enjoy, that which brings richness to our lives, that which promotes our desired results.

We might imagine a world where we could split our mental activity and study music, literature – or any other area of interest – simultaneously with 100% retention of knowledge, and a heightened ability to connect and enhance a possibilities of each.

Ray Kurvweil’s example of our experience of food in the future is as much about eliminating the worries and concerns of food’s impact on our functioning as it is about enhancing the experience which we most value about food itself.

The list goes on and on, of course.

c) Letting “Future Ideals” Influence “Present Ideals”

Just as knowledge of fulfillment and the “good” in biological life can and should positively instruct the forward motion of technological enhancement, so should our imagination of future potentials of technology be used to reflect on an positively instruct the present.

If we see a further potential or ideal – aught we not aim to not only move towards it technologically – but also move towards it in the present? Some of these present applications involve significant resources – while others do not.

For example, not everyone does or should resent household chores of cooking, cleaning, and organizing, but if you do, why do you not hire someone?

If you pray for when technology allows for your ability to delve into all the topics of your fascination – you aught determine if you’re making the most of your ability to do so in the present. Is there a day or time where you can cut off distraction and focus on particular, rich areas of interest?

If a friend told you that they couldn’t wait for “the Singularity” so that their consciousness can finally be set free of the horrible job and unfulfilling marriage they were trapped in – would you not advise them to possibly change these circumstances now?

– – –

Maximization of Future and Present – and a Living Experiment

As someone fascinated with living as many good hours as possible, I’m very enthusiastic about the refinement of our understanding of these future and present ideals.

I believe, in fact, that the determination and movement towards the most beneficial transition to transhumanism is one of the most important intellectual and scientific activities conceivable (IE: the shaping of the seemingly limitless possibilities of sentient potential).

On the other hand, I believe that living our present lives to anything other than our ideals is a shame – and that refining our approach to match these ideals is a vigilant activity.

I know that in my own life, I aim not to involve myself outside the domains of:

  • My highest, noble (I aim for them to be so, it would be vein an disingenuous to refer to them as such without this “disclaimer”) aspirations
  • The positive development of my character and skills
  • My important relationships

Though each person’s life is be different (and rightfully so), my ideals have absolutely nothing to do with dishes, driving, laundry, etc…

Of course this does not change the fact that I eat, I occasionally need to travel, and I wear cloths.

There are plenty of other tasks or seemingly necessary items which do not in the slightest relate to my ideals. Other examples involve business activities which I do not see as furthering the skills that I want to spend my hours developing in order to reach my aspirations and make the most of myself on my own term.

Examples involve pre-programming social media content, cleaning the facilities, instructing certain classes (I run a martial arts academy), and so forth.

My answer to all of these “non ideal necessities” is to either:

  1. Cut them out completely. Some items merely seem like necessities, but are not – and may be eliminated.
  2. Limit involvement with them as much as possible. With showering (which I occasionally enjoy but see mostly as a “non ideal necessity”) this has involved a thorough system for quickly and efficiently “getting done” what a shower needs to do – bringing the time below 4 minutes.
  3. Delegate as completely as possible. Get someone else to handle what isn’t aligned for you. At present I am anything but “wealthy” as a just-out-of-grad-school small business owner, but I’ve made it a priority to defend my “good hours” by hiring others to do the groceries, the dishes, the folding and putting away of clothing, and any number of tasks which I know for a fact don’t align with where my “good hours” belong.

The extent to which I intend to carry out this representation of my ideals is… as far as possible. Some “ideal enhancement” examples include:

  • I plan to at some future point be driven everywhere I need to go so that my mind can stay focused on my focus areas (aspirations, character/skills, relationships), and not “road.”
  • Though I don’t plan to do so with all meals, I plan to have many meals made in advance in “smoothie” form, so that the occasionally “non ideal” necessity of consuming food doesn’t interrupt the 3 areas described above. Some might say that eating a nice meal can be a necessary break from hard physical or mental labor, and I would sometimes agree but I might often choose for this “break” to take the form of reading Marcus Aurelius, taking a walk, skimming through the analytics data of my business websites, or writing a note to a friend.
  • Editing small inconveniences. Does it take me too much time to pull out and plug in my laptop cord when I go to work or get home from work? Well, then I aught have 2 cords always plugged in. Is it annoying and interruptive to have to leave work to get food? Then I will have a refrigerator at work. These small edits are best made at the first sign of their limiting one’s ideal life in the moment.
  • Hiring the foremost experts in whatever fields I am interested in to coach or instruct me personally, rather than merely reading their books.
  • Bringing together the greatest minds in the areas I am interested in or working on and carrying on a round table discussion with them, rather than imagining how rich their conversation on this topic might be.

Of course I bare in mind that some of these ideals require resources that I have yet to attain, but I believe in making note of and holding them in my mind regardless. For me, this process of allowing our present ideals to mold our transition into the future is essential in AI and transhumanism, but that the limitlessness of “enhanced” potential should inspire “enhanced” ideas / ways to live our ideals now.

-Daniel Faggella

Stoicism on Transhumanism: An Interview with Professor William O. Stephens

Seneca, Epictetus, Aurelius – even westerners unfamiliar with “Stoicism” recognize many of the names that brought this Philosophy to bear. Today, there are few self-professed Stoics in the world, but I was lucky enough to catch up with one of them last week: Professor William O. Stephens at Creighton University, in Omaha, NE.

Before digging into the topic of my obsession (framing and understanding the transition to a transhuman era – specifically through the light of great thinkers of the past), I wanted to get to know the man himself – as he graduated from my own Alma Mater, the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Stephens Himself

Growing up in Indiana, not too far from Purdue University, Professor Stephens (not then yet a professor) was introduced to Latin through a teacher who captured his imagination and turned his imagination to the times of the ancient Greek thinkers. He then went on to the College of Wooster and Earlham College, eventually setting out on the grad school track.

With both of his parents being PhDs and professors, it wasn’t too much of a stretch for Mr. Stephens to carry on what he called the “Stephens tradition” of teaching, and he spent the next six years getting his PhD in Philosophy at UPENN under the tutelage of Charles Kahn. It was only with Kahn that Prof. Stephens came in contact with the work of Epictetus, and he was swept away by stoicism, writing his doctoral thesis on the stoic ethics of Epictetus.

Stoics and Transhumanism

Clearly neither myself nor the Professor can speak for Epictetus (who has long since been unable to speak for himself – outside of books), but Dr. Stephens discussed with me three reasons why modern stoics might be sympathetic to the idea of enhancing human cognition and capacities via non-biological intelligence.

  1. The heroic idea for the stoic is the Sage who has overcome the vicious emotions of anger, lust, greed, jealousy, etc…, and has found his path within himself, to take life as it comes and remain virtuous in all ways and tranquil in spirit. If this track of self-development could be forwarded with the aid of technologies that might eliminate vicious tendencies and enhance positive tendencies – all while increasing overall ability (both mental and physical), this might not be as much a “shortcut” as a way to overcome our current barriers to self-development to work on yet higher ones.
  2. Stoics are physicalists (and so do not believe in a mind-body dualism), and so for them, manipulation of consciousness through physical means is not unheard-of or in violation of their conception of what consciousness is composed of.
  3. In addition, the Stoics do not identify with their bodies, but only their reason or ruling center. The “me” that a Stoic refers to has nothing to do with clothes, homes, arms, legs, or even a face, but a sentience (called “Hegemonikon,” often “hegemony” in English) that is there own, that they have built and cultivated through the story of their lives. Hence, transference of this sentience into a non-biological motherboard, or transference of their skills and memories into a machine would not eliminate their selves, any more than losing an arm to in an accident would change their selves.

Stoics and the Singularity

Dr. Stephens and I also had time to discuss the prospect of “The Singularity,” a progression of intelligent technology to the point where all intelligence becomes connected and builds upon itself at faster and faster speeds, becoming essentially omnipotent and god-like, spreading itself through the universe and potentially beyond it.

How Stoics might feel about this transition, Dr. Stephens was less clear. It seems as though there are many potentially beneficial ways that this transition might come about, and many dystopian visions associated with this kind of all-encompassing, aggregated super-consciousness. He did, however, mention a few points to consider that may at least shed light on how stoic thought might relate to the Singularity:

  • The Stoics held the belief of cosmopolitanism, of being a citizen of the world – rather than being attached or too closely tied to a particular geographical area or culture. They believed that Reason steers the entire universe, and itself controls all matter. This higher Reason is often referred to as Zeus, God, or Fate in stoic philosophical texts. The idea is that we have a rational capacity, as do other humans, and in this sense we are part of a great community. If the aggregate happiness, tranquility, and virtuous, self-overcoming pursuit of this entire community would be taken higher by the Singularity, it might not seem dystopian to a modern stoic.
  • Stoics also held that one of the highest marks of the sage is the acceptance of Fate (“If it befalls me, let it be best for me”). One might presume that if the Singularity were an eminent event, a modern stoic would likely welcome the event as the will of Zeus, and – like anything else – view its inevitability with a welcoming spirit.

More from Dr. William O. Stephens

I recently just bought Dr. Stephen’s book Marcus Aurelius: A Guidebook for the Perplexed. He has a number of additional books available, most of which can he found here on his Creighton page.

I’ve also found in interesting interview with the Professor on BoingBoing.com called “Interview with a Stoic” – which can he found here.

I also wanted to say a personal thank you to Dr. Stephens for taking the time to catch up about applying some wisdom of the good life to the issues of the future. I appreciate it more than you, know, Prof!

All the best,

-Daniel Faggella

Transcendentalist Ideals and Transhumanism / The Singularity

Let me again, preliminarily state a few short points. First, this article is an exploration – and so has no initial agenda or objective outside of discovering potential and interesting connections / thoughts through a look at transhumanism. Second, like most philosophies, Transcendentalism was not created with the thought in mind that one day man would merge with machine in order to become more capable, durable, intelligent, enlightened, etc… Third, though I hold no doctorate in Transcendentalism, I know enough about it to know that it is dangerous to assume that “it” has a firm set of tenets. It rather seems to have themes and premises, and these will be the basis for our inquiry on the matter.

In a similar manner as I have attempted in my inquiry on transhumanism and stoicism, I will aim to (1) identify and define each tenet, (2) then apply that tenet to a world that must ethically handle the unity of man and machine (enhancement, transhumanism), followed by (3) an analysis and understanding of that principle being played out in a world of “the Singularity,” a world of a single, unified biological and non-biological consciousness.

Let us examine the themes of the Self / Individualism; The Oversoul Connection of Man, God, and Nature; the Quest for Truth; and Intuition / Mysticism.

Self / Individualism

For the Transcendentalist, one’s own individuality is sacred, and that humans are innately “good” and one with God. With this being the case, action and thought are imbued with meaning and importance, with carrying out God’s will through his window through which he may act – the individual and his or her consciousness. In addition, this view holds that one must know the world only through his own eyes (this begins to lean into the tenet of intuition) and his own personal experience, as this is what is true to him, what resonates and connects to his being.

In a reality where the biological humans are significantly enhanced (physically, cognitively, etc…) by technology, we might imagine a resistance from transcendentalists, who we might imagine to be defenders of our human form, of our human essence as an eminence of God in the world. It is hard to imagine Thoreau spending hours to see a Blue Jay nesting, or watching ants on the ground – then making the quick transition to “plugging himself in” in order to make the most of his individuality.

The innate connection to “nature” might hold true as a staple of what some transcendentalists see as their “genuine individuality.” In the moment I say this without any particular passages or texts to back up this potential defense, but only with the knowledge of the intense connection that transcendental thinkers saw with the natural world.

(Though it would entirely be the topic for a separate inquiry, we might wonder how much less “natural” a computer chip is than a series of neural connections – or we might wonder what constitutes an innate human “essence” of which we must defend)

We might also imagine, however, that if the technology were adept enough (which – assuming a transhuman world, we can probably imagine it would have to be) to gain the popular adoption, and was seen to be capable of magnifying the essence of what is good in man and eliminating the “bad,” then transcendentalists might

Taking technology and sentient potential even further, assuming a connectedness of nearly all intelligence in a “Singularity” context, it would seem as though transcendentalists might loose their individuality (as it is now conceived) in a collected and aggregated conscious one-ness.

The details of such a reality are so foggy that it seems difficult to imagine exactly what this situation might entail. It may be that all of the “consciousnesses” of all living things would still maintain a sense of self despite massive enhancement / development / etc… It might also be imagined that individual consciousnesses would be “swallowed up” by a higher intelligence, or aggregated and somehow added onto this larger intelligence. It would seem that if any of these transitions were against the will of the conscious agent, transcendentalists (and most humans) would object.

However, just as a parent does for a child what the child does not know is best for itself, a super-conscious, super-capable, super-developing, super-intelligent being might (maybe even rightly) have it’s way with our bodies, minds, and consciousnesses. If this allowed for the expansion and further development of one’s consciousness to an infinite potential and richness (which we might imagine it would, so long as our own sense of sentience and consciousness was not snuffed out), we might assume that a modern transcendentalist might not object to this transition to the singularity.

Oversoul Connection of Man, God, and Nature

To a transcendental thinker, there is an innate, not fully graspable, connectedness of all consciousness and all reality – and to the divine. There is a sense that all is connected, and a seemingly Platonic view that what is “real” or “best” in us already exists, and that the most genuine expression of ourselves in art and in life implies an unfettered outflow of this universal intelligence. For Emerson, even poetry was much less about the novel contribution of the poet, and more about the authentic expression of ideas and tenets that come from outside the self, yet are part of each of us and of the world.

In a transhuman reality, the transcendentalists might hope for enhancements in our conscious ability to draw from the rest of the world and nature, and/or a greater ability to  recognize this connectedness (more on this in our next tenet, “the quest for truth”).

It would seem as though an “enhanced” individual (integrated with non-biological intelligence) would not only have a greater capacity to calculate and understand, but would be connected to greater resources outside of itself. This might be an “internet of consciousness,” or it may take the form of a physical plug in one’s skill used to transfer information (IE: “The Matrix” film). In either regard this connectedness might be understood at a higher level – especially in terms of its grounding in the properties of physics and chemistry which we might presume to underlie everything in our presently known world.

A transhuman individual may also have their emotional and “mystical” senses enhanced so as to experience this one-ness more fully and deeply than any biological human could hope to experience. This might translate also to a kind of expressed virtue in thought and action that takes this one-ness fully into account more genuinely than any biological human might be capable of. Of course this conception of “virtue” would likely extend far beyond what we understand of the term now, but it might translate to generosity, benevolence, and a more harmonious kind of progress than our biological minds could ever allow for.

Moving closer to the singularity implies a more and more literal embodiment of “unity,” and a potential creation of – if not connection to – a kind of “Oversoul.” Like transhumanism, this transition is too speculative to pin down, and may occur in any number of ways that might align – or potentially very much not align – with transcendental ideals of “right” and “wrong.”

The transition towards the singularity might involve a snuffing out of all other sentience other than the great and massive consciousness that is the arise and carry itself forth through the universe(s). It might also entail an aggregation and harmonious unity of all sentience into this “Singularity” or “Oversoul,” which may allow for a maintenance of individuality, or may merely imply a blending and “absorption” to a greater and centralized super-consciousness and super-intelligence.

If in fact this aggregating one-ness could be attained while still maintaining (even with “blending”) the consciousness of those absorbed, then we might imagine transcendentalists to be sympathetic to the idea of this transition, as well.

The Quest for Truth

If transcendentalists seek truth, it might be easy to assume that they see the profound limitations of the human body and mind as exactly that – limitations. One might assume that if Emerson could have remembered each line he ever read or wrote – without having to record and go back to notes – that he would certainly have preferred this. Similarly, we might imagine that if Thoreau was able to sense the subtle chemical communicators that dictated the movement of ants, or the inaudible sounds of the forest at night – that he would not have turned down the opportunity to go beyond his human abilities to understand nature and truth (within himself or in the world).

In addressing the quest for truth, it seems important to address the topic of “mysticism.” It may generally be said that the transcendentalists held that many aspects and facets of the world could not be comprehended and understood outside of hints through enlightened personal experience – but that the science of the day could neither “put a finger” on these “truths,” nor could words adequately express them.

It seems that even in a transhuman future, there would always be unknown answers, whether about the reaches of reality or the connectedness and potential of it’s elements. In this respect, it seems that the transendental sense of mysticism could remain in humans enhanced with non-biological intelligence. This sense may be productive in the sense that it is useful to bear in mind that there are elements of reality which we do not yet comprehend, and still to make strong suppositions about what those possibilities may entail, mean, or be.

“Mysticism” may, in other regards, be brought to be questioned thanks in large part to this same growing, ever-evolving intelligence. What we “sense” to be true and to “know” without “evidence” may be proven wrong more and more when our knowledge of what is expands at blinding speeds. Just as mystics once worshiped the sun as a god, it the transcendentalists might have their “mystical” knowledge broken down by the breakneck speed of expanding intelligence.

As an example, the concept of the “Oversoul” may find no grounding in terms of a general universal essence of consciousness – or even between the connection of various consciousnesses in the world. When consciousness itself is grasped, it may be realized that the “feeling” of oneness which we experience in nature or with other people is a particular kind of emotional experience which had at some point served a purpose in our development and human beings but in fact was not grounded in anything “real.” Just as man once may have believed with absolutely all of his heart that the sun was a god and that the lightning was a warning of the gods, man’s further understanding of the nature of consciousness, physics, neurology, and emotion may shed light on this idea of “unity” as a mere mental sensation which has – over millennia – been experienced and understood to represent some kind of greater connectedness which in fact does not exist. Even if we do not like this thought, it seems dogmatic an closed-minded to imagine that it could never in any way be proven to be false.

With that being said, it seems as though a transition to transhumanism and the Singularity would undoubtedly be firmly grounded in a further and further quest for truth in terms of understanding the world. It seems that most transcendentalists would be quicker to embrace this increased capacity to understand and experience than to cling to their mystical “sense” of what truth might be – and to shut out the genuine developments of science and understanding.

– – –

Food for thought, I think.

-Daniel Faggella

Postulations and Partial Inquiry on Fulfillment Beyond Humanity

As humans, learning often feels good, food often tastes good, novelty brings joy to life, living by values that we set brings order to our consciousness, and besides very few of us, relationships imbue the most meaning in our lives and bring us our greatest highs.

They may also be said to give us our greatest lows – but other “negative” influences such as prolonged physical pain, a lack of autonomy in life and work, thoughts of worry and sorrow, and countless other factors rack our minds with experiences of discomfort and pain.

Morality and ethics still are tremendously complex, of course, but at least in the context of human life we might imagine what a “good” world would be like to some significant extent – even if in a very basic and broad sense (IE: there probably wouldn’t be must murder, and we can imagine that disease and melancholy would not run rampant, either).

(The various fields of Psychology, including Positive Psychology, have each created various models of what “fulfillment” is composed of for human beings.)

Let us presume that consciousness exists, and that in a post-human future, the brains of human beings are merged with computers in some way, shape, or form.

If a computer of nearly limitless potential to calculate and build upon itself should aim to be “fulfilled,” what would that even imply or look like.

We cannot imagine it would require food for this end, for it not only can likely produce the pleasurable sensations of food without actually eating (be replicating this sensation to trillions of times the pleasure a human might experience), but it also likely wouldn’t require the sense of “taste” in order to attain whatever “fulfillment” composed of it in the first place.

Boundaries / Boundlessness in “Experience”

As humans, we have our five senses, and a great deal of our world is understood in terms therein. We also have our own biologically programmed criterion of “feeling.” A non-human entity is bound by none of these factors.

In fact, it may have thousands and thousands of “senses,” of it’s own construction – allowing it to detect and gain feedback from minute aspects of reality that as human beings we could not even comprehend, never mind experience.

In addition, this kind of entity (be it modified human, or something other than human) would have no criterion for “feeling”, “experience”, or “fulfillment.” Presumably, these criterion have been programmed into it – and presuming it has the power – it is able to adjust these criterion on its own.

With that being said, we might presume that an entity of this sort who sought “fulfillment” or positive “feeling / experience” would be able to continuously imbue itself with whatever the highest ideals of this experience might be. If this entity sought more and more of this experience – as it might be said we do as humans – it may not require much other than keeping itself running, and building more “nodes” or parts of itself with which to experience more and more of this positive “feeling.”

The Potential Irrelevancy of “Experience” in an Entity

We might also presume that such an entity might not want or need “feeling” at all. It would require innumerable modes of feedback to itself, but it might be presumed that “feeling” would be altogether irrelevant for its functioning and it’s goals (whatever these goals might be).

We might also presume that “feeling” might only hold relevancy for conscious beings, and that it might be said that such an entity, though it have objectives, senses, knowledge, and amazing computational and creative capacities far beyond anything man could imagine – might not be “awake” and “aware” in the literal sense of being alive.

What This Might Mean for Us as Humans in a Transition to Transhumanity

  • As we merge with machines to whatever extent, it might be said that we could be capable – even in the early stages of this transition – to not only function at a higher level in terms of our thought and of our work, but that we might be capable of experiencing perpetual fulfillment at a completely inhuman level, through the “virtual” (rather than actual) fulfillment of our happiness requirements, or through the obsolescence of these criterion in the first place (over-writing / re-programming).
  • If in fact we do merge with machines, it seems very probable that we might not “live” as humans at all, but merely experience a virtual reality or a “nirvanic” state – holding our consciousness in a perpetually fulfilled “mode” without any requirements on our end.
  • If our intelligence is to be merged in with the rest of humanity, it seems as though any semblance of individual consciousness of “feeling” may be irrelevant in the first place, and either fade away or be blended into some kind of aggregate consciousness – within which we may or may not maintain any of our past awareness at all.

Food for thought. It seems as thought the applications of philosophy and ethics have had no more an important time in our lives than now as we imagine our actual ideals – and the furtherance of human potential in general.

In political philosophy, ideals and principles might have taken hundreds of years to come to fruition, but in the construction of and framing of trans-humanity and what is called the “singularity,” we will actively set the tone for a future that we will likely get to see within our own lifetime.

In my opinion there is nothing more fascinating than the scope of fulfillment and conscious potentiality – and as a race there seems no more important conversations of our era than that of molding what consciousness will become and how we will all be effected.

(Incomplete)

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-Daniel Faggella

Sentient Potential and Stoic Ideals

The concept of “Strong A.I.” (SAI) or Singularity-level intelligence brings to light a number of questions about the ideals of this kind of powerful force. In essence, the molding or framing of the ideals of the development and application of this super intelligence is an ethical concern. The development and application of this kind of power is the determination of a moral course of action – possibly (or presumably) a more important determination than mankind has ever made.

In understanding this “transhuman transition” in ethical terms, it seems fruitful and potentially instructive not only to explore technologies and form our own postulations of the ethical ramifications on human life, but to refer to ethical systems of the past and glean insight therefrom.

In this treatise, we will inspect a number of core tenets of Stoicism, and determine how those ideals and tenets might express themselves in an ideal Singularity-level intelligence.

Let us of course bear in mind that Stoicism – like most any other ethical system – is constructed within the parameters of human capacities and limitations, and so will often not account for conditions we would expect in an age of SAI. This will be both the fun and the challenge of this mental exercise.

Stoic Ideals in Light of Strong A.I.

1. Acceptance of What Is

 The Stoics held that non-acceptance was a major cause of suffering and the improper application of human energies and effort.

Stoics might hold, then, that one of the key transhuman transitions should be an adaptation in our own minds that allows for complete acceptance and greater use of reason – and ability to understand what it without emotion that would taint this clear understanding – or impact our feelings or actions in a negative fashion.

With much higher computational capacity, it can be supposed that our ability to analyze and understand the world will be vastly more powerful than that which is possible with our biological brains alone. In addition, the Stoics might argue for adaptations that allow for a conscious modulation of emotions, or potentially for the elimination of emotions such as anger, jealousy, and envy.

2. Virtue Being Sufficient for Happiness

The Stoics viewed virtue as being sufficient for the attainment of happiness, while the Epicureans saw the “good” as relating directly to the experience of pleasure. Though men of both schools lived relatively ascetic lifestyles, their conception of what constitutes the “good” is what separates them at their cores.

In a reality of SAI, we might ask the question: What constitutes “Virtue” to a super-intelligence without limitations? Or we might ask: How could human experience be augmented to exemplify Stoic virtue more thoroughly?

It seems slightly easier to address this concern at an individual level first. We could probably not suppose that the Stoics would argue for an elimination of emotional experience and a heightened moral and ethical sense. Stoics generally seem not to desire the elimination of emotion, but the proper use of emotion as an exercise in our development of core Stoic virtues and qualities (clemency, understanding, tranquility, etc…).

In this regard, we can presume that Stoics might desire a human augmentation allowing for much greater computational capacity (as we addressed before), but also of an elimination of unproductive emotions, and an optimally enhanced experience of positive emotions – so long as these emotions served to further one’s self-cultivation.

It would be interesting to see if Stoics would be completely ambivalent to the enhancement of positive emotional experience in light of viewing virtue as sufficient for happiness in and of itself. Presumably, virtue was associated with some semblance of inner peace, tranquility, and more – all of which involve some kind of positive emotional experience associated with them.

As for a SAI, universally connected intelligence (IE: encompassing all internet, computer, and human intelligences), it would seem that virtue itself would need an even more thorough re-thinking, and that a positive emotional experience would be of no challenge to a kind of consciousness with such tremendous power.

 3. Harmony with a Universe Over Which We Have No Direct Control

In a condition of SAI, it would in fact seem that “we” (IE: consciousness as a whole) would be capable of tremendous “control” by today’s standards. In addition, we can presume that “harmony” would take on a new meaning in a world of SAI, but that it would be attained in the sense that “disharmony” in the form of human non-acceptance and neglect of truth would presumably be completely wiped out.

However, we might also venture to pose that even at the point of SAI, our relative “control” over the universe might not be much higher – relatively speaking – as it is today. In other words, if the universe(s) are infinitely complex, than neither a human brain or a super-intelligent mega-computer can ever (no matter it’s inevitably growing capacity) scratch the surface of “understanding,” nevermind “control” – especially considering the while of the universe.

Given this above consideration, the Stoic idea of harmony and acceptance seems useful and quite inevitable in a SAI reality, though the idea of control may need modification. The Stoics could never have imagined the ability to understand and control that a SAI-consciousness would be capable of executing / building upon. The Stoic value of self-cultivation might then emphasize that – because it is possible – we aught to as much as possible strive for greater and greater control over what we can have control over.

Presumably, the acceptance of many factors of the universe has to do with the fact that Stoics generally believed that nothing could be done about them, and so a pragmatic stance is one of acceptance and understanding. If new realms of the universe become malleable and under our control, they are no longer “externals,” but are in fact assets to our own self-development (much as “thought” and “reason” were to human Stoics). Hence, transhuman Stoics might propose a reaching out and active use of whatever levels of control we have and can develop (if nothing else, for the furthering of “understanding” and “reason”).

4. We Are All Part of a Universal Spirit and Consciousness

It seems as though this ethical tenet could be exemplified in terms of human enhancement by “editing” out emotions and thinking.

First and foremost, let it be known that we aught not suppose that this sense of unity is an inherent truth which would somehow automatically become self-evident with further understanding of ourselves and the workings of the world and consciousness (in fact, it might be the case that the opposite may be the case).

However, if in fact our higher understanding we can determine a truth to this unity (based on cognitive enhancement and based on further scientific research), we might imbue the human mind with enhancements to heighten this sense and virtue of unity.

In addition, with the advent of connecting human consciousness to a general database, or through sharing information with other human beings or groups, the concept of “unity” might be seen to be directly applicable in a post-human world.

In a SAI reality, we might presume that the absolute highest ideal of “unity” would in fact be realized, where individual sentient consciousnesses might be said to all be united, aggregated, and interconnected to an intelligence and technological capacity that will as of now be unimaginable (and, presumably, ever-growing).

We might say that if individual conscious beings have an ability to exist (or at least distinguish themselves) as “individuals” in some regard, then not only is some semblance of autonomy and personal choice preserved (which we might argue some Stoics may desire to maintain), then we might imagine that this is a nearly ideal exemplification of a Stoic ideal of unity.

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Daniel Faggella