Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Transhumanist Declaration

Earlier this year, held a contest to update the original Transhumanist Manifesto written by Max More and others in the 1980s. I entered, but did not win (I was third place, although numbers 1 and 2 tied in the voting, which means I was really number 2). So here it is. The original is a classic and I do not mean to usurp its place in the canon. This is just my take on it.

The Transhumanist Declaration

Preamble: We, the sentient beings of the Planet Earth, in order to form a more perfect society, enhance the human condition, build toward a rational future, and plan for any eventualities, do hereby adopt and abide by this Declaration of Transhumanist Principles.
1 The Twentieth Century was a time of amazing growth and technological advancement. The Twenty-First Century will see these technologies burst forth in an unprecedented fashion. Humanity must adapt to the coming changes or become obsolete. We seek to fulfill our potential by not giving in to our biological limitations. We will use new technologies to enhance our lives, live longer, be smarter, healthier and more compassionate to all beings.
2 All progress is change, but not all change is progress. Humanity has great potential for good, but has sadly shown that it lacks the wisdom to be responsible with new technologies. The right technology in the wrong hands could lead to the loss of everything we hold valuable. We acknowledge these risks and pledge to be wise and responsible with our discoveries.
3 Research into new technologies that could enhance our lives should be carefully deliberated and transparent to all outsiders. The adoption of these new technologies should be universal and fair. We must always be aware of reducing existential risks and promoting beneficial applications of new discoveries. The continued existence of our species, in whatever form it takes, should be our top priority, and all research into these fields should be heavily funded.
4 Our greatest responsibility is not to ourselves, but to our descendants. All social policies, politics, economics, technologies, education, and other important fields must be guided by responsible persons who have shown themselves to have the wisdom to lead in the best interests of the majority of the people. No other considerations shall interfere with this most important belief.
5 We advocate the well-being of all sentient minds. Whether human, non-human, post-human, animal, or artificial, now and hereafter, the sentient mind is the most sacred thing in this vast universe. No sentient mind should ever be subject to pain, despair, prejudice or unwanted attack. Individuals must be allowed personal choice to live their lives as they see fit while not infringing upon the rights of others to do likewise. We favor the ability of a sentient being  to enhance their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves in any way, including life extension therapies, reproductive choice, gender reassignment, body modification, mind-duplication, the right to choose the way in which they die, and any or all other decisions that no other being should be allowed to make for them.
6 This Declaration is not rigid. It will evolve and adapt along with us.

Friday, February 15, 2013

My Thoughts on the Intuitive IQ Webseries Trailer

Mike Rose has spent the last few months working on a new webseries, Intuitive IQ, and has finally released the first trailer for it. This series looks to be a news/interview program, in which Rose talks to experts and leaders of various groups, ranging from Occupy to transhumanism to the SENS Research Foundation.

Although the trailer condenses over five hours worth of content into little more than three minutes, it does give us a tantalizing look at what to expect from Intuitive IQ. It seems that Rose is interested in giving us the news from the “other” point of view – meaning the one not normally seen in the mainstream media. It also appears that he is giving them the time to really speak their minds and get their message to the viewer, rather than shouting them down and forcing his own viewpoint, as so many pundits on mainstream news channels seem to do nowadays.

The accompanying music in the trailer? U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.” It’s an appropriate choice of music for many reasons (Bono’s crusade to create a more fair and just world being the one that springs immediately to mind). The familiar driving rhythm and timeless guitar rift have always made me look to the unknown future in search of something better. Judging strictly from this trailer, it seems Mike Rose is on a similar quest.  I’m personally interested in following Rose on this trip, just to see where he can lead us.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Autism: Disease or the New Normal?

The rise in reported cases of people being born with conditions on the Autism Spectrum indicate a possible evolutionary trait: a mutation that enhances the ability of the most powerful tool the human animal has – its mind. Instead of working toward a cure for ASD, we should be harnessing the collective power of these genius minds to fundamentally change our society. We need to evolve or die.

In an article I wrote for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, I asked a very important question. Perhaps the most important question for anybody who proclaims themselves to be a transhumanist. It is also perhaps the oldest question posed in philosophy, art, science and religion. This question has only four words. “What makes us human?”
In that article, I explained how I looked around for a definition of the word “human.” Here is what the dictionary says…

Of, relating to, or characteristic of people or human beings.
A human being, esp. a person as distinguished from an animal or (in science fiction) an alien.
adjective. Humane
noun. man - person - human being - individual - soul – mortal

Do you see a problem here? If you remember all the way back to grade school, you may remember the rule about defining a word. You can NOT use a word to define itself. In other words, you can’t say “a tree is a treelike object.” You can’t say “A book is shaped like a book.” You can say “a tree is a plant that ranges in size with a wooden trunk and branches and leaves that vary depending on the species.” You can say that “a book is a small, rectangular object that contains words printed on paper pages and bound by either a soft or hard cover.” So WHY is the agreed-upon definition of “human,” “a human being?”

So I had to do some reading and some out-of-the-box thinking. I came across a great article by Eliezer Yudkowski titled “The Power of Intelligence” which plainly explains something in a way I hadn’t thought of before. Let’s go back about five million years.

Out on the dry, desert plains of Africa a new species began to develop. It didn’t have razor-sharp fangs or claws to catch prey. It didn’t have a hard shell or exoskeleton to protect it from predators or the environment. It wasn’t able to change colors like a chameleon to blend in with its environment and hide from any threats. It was small. It was naked. It was defenseless. It was really yummy! Anybody with a passing understanding of natural selection, hell, anybody who has even heard the name of Charles Darwin, understands that this species absolutely could NOT survive more than a few generations against the leopards, hyenas, sabretoothed cats, or any other carnivorous beast out there. Looking objectively at this situation, I defy anybody to expect that that weak, unprepared, unequipped, hairless ape species would make it out of this. And not just survive, but flourish. And not just flourish, but grow to become the dominant creature on the planet.
In a world that is dominated by natural selection, this species had to have something that set it apart from other animals. It had to have developed something that could make it uniquely suited to survival. In this case, the species developed a brain capable of higher levels of thought and awareness and problem solving. Logic. Our brains - our cognitive ability – is what set the human animal on the path to becoming such a dominant force. Our brains gave us the ability to make tools, weapons, art, technology, things to make our world better for us.
Or worse. In its infinite wisdom, the universe sought to give us this powerful, 3-pound lump of flesh to use for making great things. Great buildings, powerful works of art, literature, music and film. But the universe likes things to be balanced. And every great work of humankind has been balanced by our cunning ability to create powerful evil. This is not some great new insight that I am wowing you all with. This is pretty elementary stuff here, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that E=MC2, while changing science and physics as we knew it also gave us what we needed to create the most powerful form of destruction ever known in the atomic bomb.

So it is our brain, as well as our opposable thumb, that made us who we are. We have conquered the Earth. We are taking our first steps into space and other planets. We are unlocking the mysteries of science, life, and the universe. We are the pinnacle of evolution, right?

Well I don’t think anybody told the universe that.

The big fallacy that I come across, more often than I care to admit, is that humans as we are now, are the result of millions of years of evolution, that we are the top dog, that we are the endgame. And I always look at the people that say this and I ask them “How do you know?”

How do we know? Evolution is a long process. The Earth has been spinning here for 4 and a half BILLION years. Homo sapiens has only been on it for about 100,000 years. And we’ve only reached civilization for about 10,000 years. And we’ve only lived in an industrialized society for what, 150-200 years? We only dropped out of the trees about ten minutes ago, and we have the nerve to say that we are done evolving?

Anybody that uses even a tenth of the power of this amazing 3-pound tool in our heads can see that this is an absolutely stupid thought. It’s ridiculous that we are the most evolved thing here, and more so that we are DONE evolving.

Since we do not have to fight for our food, or our lives, or our mates anymore, people think that we don’t have any further to evolve. But they don’t understand that we ARE still evolving, just not in an outwardly physical way. Our brains, the very thing that evolved to make our species survive, flourish and dominate, don’t want to just stop where they are. They are not happy just sitting there, collecting their retirement and watching the ballgame. Our brains are not stagnant. They are not sitting still. We are not stuck in a cognitive swamp with no new thoughts or ideas coming in…

My point is that evolution is not stopping for anything. It is a process that is always looking for ways to improve things. It’s looking at us and saying, well, they don’t need claws. They don’t need hard shells. They don’t need to change colors. They don’t need to be able to run at 50 miles per hour. But HEY! They’ve got this neat little thing in their heads that they’ve put to good use. Let’s see if we can improve on that a little.

I believe that our brains are STILL evolving. There is a lot we don’t know about them. Brains are pretty difficult to understand. I’m sure Ben Goertzel can tell you how hard it is to figure out and replicate the way a brain works.

But not all brains work the same.
Thomas Jefferson, Leonardo da Vinci, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Albert Einstein, and a whole host of other people I don’t have the room to mention all shared something. Although they all specialized in different fields and lived at different times, they were all seen as being somehow different than their peers. It is said they worked on a different level than the top minds of their times. They revolutionized politics, art, technology, music, science and so much more.
And they were all autistic. We think. Of course, we can’t confirm it, and they aren’t here now to confirm or deny it, but the writings of the people who knew them and described them in detail show certain characteristics that, if they lived today, would result in their being diagnosed with conditions on the Autism Spectrum. For those of you who are still uncertain or need a refresher, here is a quick rundown of what autism is, and what it is not…

Autism is a neurological disorder, most likely spread genetically through the father’s lineage, which manifests in different ways. The common bond is that the wires are figuratively crossed in the mind, and sensory input is processed in different ways. For instance, while most people would find the feel of velvet to be soft and pleasant, an autistic person may find that touching it causes extreme discomfort or even pain. The faint buzzing sound of a fluorescent light is easily dismissed by a neurotypical person, but an autistic person may find the sound excruciating. And there are various conditions and symptoms, all related and placed under the umbrella term of “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Outward signs include self-stimulating behaviors, such as spinning in circles, humming, repetitive speech patterns and so on. Extremely underdeveloped social skills are a key factor in the diagnosis of autism. Autism is NOT spread through immunizations, nor can it be cured by a special diet or medication. I’ve met parents who claim their autistic child’s behaviors improved for a while after an oxygen deprivation treatment. I think anybody would act different after one of those. As of now, there is no cure, although a great deal of research is being put into discovering the causes and cure of autism spectrum disorders. And that should bring you up to speed on that.
But I have a different idea, one that I’ve only spoken of briefly to a few people, and never written about or posed publicly before today. Autism is not a disease. Autism is not a disorder. It does not need to be cured, and it does not have to be looked upon as a handicap.

For the purposes of this article, I have to be clear that I am talking about high-functioning people with autism. Savants and people with Asperger’s Syndrome. There are a great many people with autism who are entirely non-verbal or unable to communicate in any way. They are often misdiagnosed as severely retarded and go to special schools or homes. For people with this magnitude of autism, life is extremely difficult, as it is for their caregivers. I do think research must continue into treatment for severe autism. Again, my talk today regards those of the higher-functioning status. So with that out of the way, let’s move on…

High-functioning people with ASD often have specialized interests, which can be all-consuming. It is difficult to get them to discuss any subject outside of their narrow range of interest. They remember minor details and can spout off the minutiae of the subject in extreme detail. For instance, let’s talk about a child who we will call Jerry. Jerry is a student in a school district I used to teach in. This district had a revolutionary policy of incorporating high-functioning students with autism into their regular classes. There are a lot of flaws with this policy, which I will get into a little later. Jerry was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and his all-consuming interest was dinosaurs. If you asked him a question about the weather, he would start by answering your question, then get into details about how the weather has changed since the Cretaceous Period, and then talk about which dinosaurs were dominant in this area at the time and so forth. The downside to the arrangement with the school district was that the child was placed in a general education class, where the teacher was unable to give Jerry the one-on-one attention he needed. So he was placed in a desk at the back of the room and left to his own devices, while rest of the class went along with the curriculum.
I went to that class as a substitute one day, and the teacher left a note saying that I was not to expect any work to come from Jerry, and not even to really assign him anything. Or ask him questions. Or even really acknowledge his existence. At one point the rest of the class was to write a classic five-paragraph essay. The prompt was to imagine that their class was going on a field trip to any time or any place in the past. Jerry sat there, looking bored as the rest of the class worked, or pretended to work, on their essays. After a while, I went up to Jerry and I asked if he would like to participate in the assignment. Some of the students nearby let out little gasps of shock when I did this. Jerry was stunned, and asked me why I wanted him to do it. I told him that I was interested to know where he would take the class if they had a time machine. I told him not to worry about turning the assignment in on time or to worry too much about spelling and grammar, if that stuff was difficult. I just wanted to know what he wanted to write about. I found a pencil and some paper and handed them to him. The rest of the day, while the rest of the class moved on to math, science, history and so forth, Jerry sat at his desk in the back of the room. At the end of the day, he handed in his five-paragraph essay. It was started out as a detailed explanation of the time machine and how it worked, then how it would take them to a specific time. I can’t remember now if it was the Cretaceous, Jurassic or another period, but he began to explain in great detail everything they would see. The plant life, the volcanoes, the dinosaurs, the insects, the weather. Every piece of information stored in this boy’s head about his favorite subject came out into this small book of twenty-odd pages, complete with illustrations and diagrams. And it only took him a few hours. Jerry was very proud of himself, and he even had gained some of the respect of his classmates, who were asking to read it.

A few days later, I was back at that school, working in a different classroom. During my lunch break, Jerry’s teacher approached me, with her hands on her hips. “What did you say to Jerry the other day?”

“Um, nothing, really. Why?” Mind you, I was still new to this job, and I was very concerned with how well I was doing.

“You must have said something to him to get him to do all that work. He never does anything. He is really just a disruption to the rest of the class. How the hell did you get him to do that?”
I took a second, then came back at her with the only response I could think of.

“I asked him to do it.”

The point is that many high-functioning autistic people have an incredible ability to apply their incredible brainpower in amazing ways. If Einstein truly was autistic, and all signs point that he was, then his brain was working on an enhanced level, and, much like Jerry, his knowledge on certain subjects was all-consuming. This is the man who revolutionized physics, who gave us the means to unlock the mysteries of the universe and devised the Theory of Relativity. But did you know that this man could not even count money? He could do amazing calculations regarding gravity and movement and time, but he had difficulty with simple math. Yet, when focused on his area of expertise, he was able to change the world.

Is evolution working to make us more specialized? Are our brains developing to make us all super-geniuses, even if only in one subject? Will our descendants all be savants and prodigies? I think some signs are pointing in that direction.

I recently posted a survey on numerous transhumanist websites. It was based on the GARS-2 test given to people by psychologists to determine if there is enough information to diagnose someone with an autism spectrum disorder. My idea was that, given the amount of science and technology in the field of transhumanist studies, and with the high amount of crossover into science fiction and other geekdoms, would there be a higher rate of H+ people who show two or more symptoms of ASD? Unfortunately, a lot of people were offended by the mere suggestion, and even though the post, which was seen on numerous websites as well as Facebook, was viewed hundreds of times, I only received four completed surveys. Of course that is not enough to even begin to make a real study out of.
The rate of children who are being diagnosed with Autism and ASD has risen exponentially in the last few years. Even taking into account what I feel are erroneous diagnoses of children who are just shy or unpopular or who may have other conditions with similar symptoms, like Schizoid Personality Disorder, I still see the curve here, and it bears no small resemblance to something Kurzweil would like. Either way, what we see is that every year, the percentage of children being diagnosed with Autism is increasing. Instead of one or two people whose brains are working on an entirely different level, we see hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of people who have amazing mental abilities. The current estimate is that one out of every 88 children being born today has an autism spectrum disorder. What I see when I look at a graph like this is not a disease or something that needs to be fixed or cured. I see evolution. And I see it when I look at Jerry, or Temple Grandin, or Mozart or da Vinci or Einstein. I see it when I watch my son playing the piano like a trained musician, composing songs and playing difficult melodies at the age of six. And I see it when I look in the mirror. I do not have a disease. I do not have an affliction. I may not act or think exactly like a quote-unquote normal person. But the numbers are growing. And it appears to me that this trend will continue.

So what do we do with all these people who, if my hypothesis is true, are the next step? If they are cognitively different from those who would teach them, what can we do to make them normal, functioning members of society? Perhaps the answer is that we don’t. Instead of forcing them to act like everyone else, maybe we should learn a little from them. Maybe we should harness their amazing brains and use them, together, in teams perhaps. Think tanks of high-functioning autistic people could come up with ideas, strategies for fundamentally changing this world. Instead of putting them to the side, like Jerry was in his class, we should be looking to them for help. To give us the tools we need to step forward ourselves. Perhaps, like Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci, we could look to them as leaders and follow them into a bright new future.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Scientific Illiteracy

The Casual Transhuman

Why doesn’t everyone get excited about transhumanism? Why aren’t all people fascinated by augmented and virtual reality, radical life-extension, brain-uploading, and The Singularity? “The Casual Transhuman” will examine H+ topics from the layman’s perspective and give suggestions on how transhumanists can spread their ideas without looking like crackpots to the world-at-large.

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”   -   Isaac Asimov

“Scientific Illiteracy.” I didn’t come up with the term, but I took it. Illiteracy is a major problem, in every sense of the word. However, studies show that we may be moving toward a “post-literate” society. I’m not going to discuss my thoughts on this right now. Post-literacy may-or-may-not be a good thing, actually, but that is a discussion for elsewhere. The problem is not how the information is being transmitted, it is the ability of the population to understand, comprehend, even grok the information they receive. Watching a film adaptation of Moby Dick will not replace reading the thing, but it allows those who have not read it the ability to understand the material, even if in a different context. Someone who is illiterate would still be able to discuss the plot, even the intent of Moby Dick after seeing one of the films based on it.

But how would you respond to someone who not only didn’t read it, but refused to watch it, saying that it goes against their deeply held belief to know what Moby Dick is about, and that they have been told never to discuss it, think about it or speak to anybody that had read or watched it? That may sound strange, but one can live their entire life unaware of Moby Dick and be just fine.

However, scientific illiteracy is not about Moby Dick. It is not about ignorance of a fictional story or character, and you cannot go through a lifetime ignorant of certain things about the world around you. Just what is Scientific Illiteracy? Here are a few instances…
-          Recently, a group of scientists were charged, tried, and found guilty of manslaughter for failing to predict that a deadly earthquake was about to strike an area of Italy. They are awaiting their appeal, but there is a good chance that these people will serve time in prison for not doing something that it has proven nearly impossible to do.  Here is a more complete write up of the case.
           In certain parts of the United States and Great Britain (and possibly many, many other countries), some children are removed from school and taught at home according to their religious beliefs. Now, that may not sound terrible at first, until you see the textbooks that these children are given, specifically when it comes to science. They are taught that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, that dinosaurs and humans lived together, and that nobody understands electricity, because it is unknowable, just like God. Their proof of these claims? We still live with dinosaurs. The Loch Ness Monster (which is apparently absolutely real) is a plesiosaur and things like radiocarbon dating are frauds committed by evil people who are trying to turn otherwise intelligent people into Satan worshippers. I am not exaggerating. Here are some pages from these textbooks.

-               In September, the Chairman of the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) said that all he had been taught “about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory” are “all lies straight from the pit of Hell.” He goes on to claim that these well-known, researched, peer-reviewed topics are meant to “keep me and other folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a Savior.” Don’t believe me? Look here…  As the fantastic writer David Brin said, “That’s the chairman. Of the Science Committee. Of the House of Representatives. Of the United States of America.” Amen, David.

THAT is Scientific Illiteracy. Hundreds of years of experimentation, questioning, reproducing, publishing, peer review, etc. (you know, the friggin’ SCIENTIFIC METHOD) is completely disregarded by those in authority, who replace it with their personal beliefs, which they present as iron-clad fact, in some cases even legislating their views into law. This whole discussion goes far beyond the evolution/creationism/intelligent design argument and takes a turn into dangerous territory.

I recently saw an argument about global climate change. One person used numerous facts, graphs, extrapolations, quotes from scientists, trends, etc. The other person, when confronted with these facts said “So what?” The first person said “What do you mean `so what?’” The second person responded with “It doesn’t matter, because God will always provide for us. He will never give us any more or any less than we can actually handle. Even if these things you say are true, it won’t matter because God won’t allow me to come to harm.”

America is the most advanced country in the world, depending on your point of view. Yet nearly half of all people in this great country truly, deeply, completely believe that even basic concepts like evolution, the Big Bang and even electricity are entirely fictional, and that those who “believe” in these ideas are lost at best, or at worst pure evil. And, this being America, one of our most cherished ideals is that people in this country are free to believe whatever they choose and are even more free to express their beliefs. So where does the right to freedom of religion and the freedom of speech/expression end and the right to advance the knowledge of our species begin?

This article is not meant to pass judgment on religion or religious people. It is meant to start a discussion regarding how to make science ‘sexy’ again. Go back about 100 years. Who were the heroes in America and around the world in the first half of the 20th Century? Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein. Who are the most discussed people now? The Kardashians, Snooki and Honey Boo Boo. The presidential candidates were asked to openly explain their policies regarding science. Both refused to answer and sent form letters that summed up their respective party views.

When elected officials, the very people we ask to lead our country, are ignorant of how the world works, how can our country be expected to survive much longer? We have congressmen like Todd Akin talking about how women who are being “legitimately raped” being able to shut their reproductive systems off like a light switch. Others, like Richard Mourdock, say that if a pregnancy occurs from a rape, it is a “gift from God.”  Then we have the aforementioned Rep. Broun’s statement. It is time to begin the discussion of making our candidates for public office give their opinions of issues regarding science, religion, biology, geology, climate change, etc. while they are campaigning, publicly and definitively.
     There is some reason to be hopeful for the scientific future of America. The amount of outrage from both sides of the political aisle in response to those comments was encouraging, although I think that some of it may have been just to appease the equally outraged constituents. How many politicians would have even responded if there had been little-to-no outcry from the people?
    Also, there has been a massive amount of exciting science and space news this year. NASA landed an SUV-sized rover on the surface of Mars with pinpoint accuracy. The scientists at CERN announced that they believe they have discovered the existence of a particle that is “consistent” with the hypothetical Higgs-Boson. However, in order to get the average American to even look up at the news, the media insisted on calling it “The God Particle.”
     This year, a privately-owned spacecraft docked with the International Space Station. This means that space is now within reach for everyone, not just the government.
     It was announced in 2012 that nearly every star in the Milky Way Galaxy could potentially have planets. They estimate that the average is 1.6 planets per star. Hundreds of exoplanets have been discovered just this year, many of which are not too far away, relatively speaking. I have noticed that when space makes the news, there is a spike in other science-related news. That is encouraging.
     The most important thing for the future of our nation is to make science education a priority again. How that can be implemented or even acknowledged is a whole other discussion. But I believe that once it is made a significant part of our culture again, our future will seem a whole lot brighter.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Published today via TJL-2080's Facebook

All throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries, many of the biggest celebrities in the world were scientists and inventors. Bell, Curie, Einstein, Edison, Tesla, even Howard Hughes, to an extent. People were excited about new scientific discoveries. It was big news when someone discovered something or made something. Now? There is almost a scientific illiteracy happening, worldwide. Especially here in the United States. But even in other developed "First World" countries.

Take, for example, the absolutely ridiculous story the other day about the group of scientists who were sentenced to 6 YEARS in prison for manslaughter because...they didn't predict a major earthquake. Yes, this happened. Here's the story...

Here in the US, people actively ridicule science, and seem PROUD to not even know the name of the galaxy we live in. The presidential nominees answer all sorts of questions about their religions and base their policies on their religious convictions, but refuse to go on record with their policies on science topics. People are pulling their kids out of school and homeschooling them because they disagree with schools "forcing" their children to learn about Evolution.

This is about to reach epidemic proportions. Any ideas how to stop the bleeding? Please leave comments below if you do...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Transhumanist Heroes: Dr. Manhattan

This is the first in a new series of articles. "Transhumanist Heroes." Originally published at on September 27, 2012.

                Transhumanists as a subculture, are a rather underrepresented group in the media. While we often get transhumanist ideals in films, television, etc., we rarely see someone on the screen that we can look up to as an ideal transhumanist.  So we need to celebrate what few there are, hold them up as heroes. This series of articles examines transhumanists in the media, whether real or fictional. This time, we look at Dr. Manhattan.

                Ah, Dr. Manhattan. We barely knew you. Yet I feel like you have given us so much to remember you by. Your cool nature. Your understanding of the workings of space and time. Your casual nudity. Okay, so people give you a lot of crap about that last one, but I have to give you credit. I am a naturist myself, and whenever possible I am similarly free to be myself. Although I wish I had as much “self” as you do. But I digress…
                For those who still don’t know (shame on you), Dr. Manhattan was one of the main characters in the graphic novel (and film adaptation) of Watchmen, which is considered among the greatest volumes of “comic book” art ever, as much as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series or Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ Marvels. Watchmen was a story of how masked vigilantes in a non-superpowered world would live. Most were portrayed as sad, paranoid, bitter people, most of them older and still trying to live like it was the golden days of their personal (mostly imagined) glory.
                Yet in this alternate 1985, there actually was one and only one superpowered being in the world. Dr. Jon Osterman was a physicist who was horribly ripped apart at the atomic level in a lab accident. Months later, he rematerialized himself as a glowing blue entity, able to do anything he could imagine. He could be in more than one place at the same time. He could make buildings grow with a thought. He could make people explode by pointing a finger at them. Oh yes, how I wanted to be Dr. Manhattan as a teenager.
                Osterman is a walking course in quantum mechanics. His understanding of time allows all things to exist simultaneously. He would often know where a conversation with somebody would lead. He is already there, in the future, finishing the conversation, able to inform his past self what was going to happen, yet that past self would still go through the conversation, even getting surprised by revelations, even though he was already aware of it. Is your brain hurting yet?

                But this is reality, at least according to Alan Moore, the author of Watchmen.  Dr. Manhattan works at a level so far beyond humanity that he is seen as almost a god, even by the other costumed heroes. Of course, Dr. Manhattan doesn’t wear a costume, or much of anything at all really. As he grows more and more out of touch with humanity, he begins to frighten people, to the point where there is eventually a backlash against him, resulting in his self-exile to Mars. He is just as happy there as he ever was on Earth. He builds a huge glass clockwork castle for himself and lives there, occasionally transporting people to him for conversations.
                Dr. Manhattan is mostly interested in his work, creating technologies from his unique understanding of scientific principles. Even though the story is set in 1985, New York is full of electric cars, and we see other anachronisms sprinkled throughout, deftly incorporated by artist Dave Gibbons. He is so single-minded in his work, that even while having some , ahem, alone time with his longtime girlfriend, a second Osterman is in the lab, busy at work.
                As he progresses through the story, he becomes more remote and cold. Dr. Manhattan is locked in his own mind, evolving to the point that he no longer cares when people die. He does not even see the difference between life and death, since these people still exist to him (in the past, where he currently is as well), and in their individual elements, broken down after death.
                Dr. Manhattan is what I would look to as the ideal posthuman. As I wrote in an earlier article, transhumanists need to look into what it is about us that is human, then decide what is necessary, what we can change to make better, and what we can completely get rid of. We need to decide what we want to evolve into. And if the world were populated by seven billion Dr. Manhattans, things would be very different from how they are today. For better or worse remains to be seen. But to date, I believe that Dr. Manhattan, both as he appeared in the graphic novel AND in the movie, is a perfect example for us to look at and emulate.

WHY Dr. Manhattan is a Transhumanist Hero.
-Sees the world from an omnipotent point of view, a non-human intelligence, possibly an artificial intelligence.
-Traditional human values do not concern him. Sexuality, life, death, our place in the world and in the universe are all different to Dr. Manhattan.
-Does work that elevates life, making the world a better place (arguably) for his having been there.
-He is a glowing blue nudist. Just thought I’d throw that in there again. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Posthuman: The Endgame?

This article first appeared on on August 15, 2012.

Why doesn’t everyone get excited about transhumanism? Why aren’t all people fascinated by augmented and virtual reality, radical life-extension, brain-uploading, and The Singularity? This essay is the first in a series of articles, entitled “The Casual Transhuman” - it will examine H+ topics from the layman’s perspective and give suggestions on how transhumanists can spread their ideas without looking like crackpots to the world-at-large.
What is a posthuman being? For years, I have been hearing that we are gradually moving towards a new state. Transhumanism is, by definition, a step between our current human form and what we will become. I see a lot of ideas on how we will merge with our technology, how things will be radically different after the Singularity, how we will be immortal and how human and machine will become one new being in a glorious new world. But one thing I hear very little about is the end product.

It seems to me that there is a lack of focus in the transhumanist community. There is such an emphasis on the process that perhaps the big finale has faded into the aether. I think it is time to draw the focus back – to answer the question “what, exactly, are we trying to do here?” It is time to get a consensus and work back from that. Only then will we know how to proceed.

The word “posthuman” can be a tad polarizing and even frightening. I’m sure that for an audience like the one reading this on IEET or H+ Magazine, I don’t need to break down the parts of the word, like I would to grade schoolers. That would be insulting. Or would it? Hmm. Maybe the crux of the idea is in the word itself.

Post - obviously means “after.” I don’t think we need to dig into that any deeper. But the next part of the word is “human.” This is the hard part. How can we define “posthuman” until we come up with a specific consensus of what it means to be “human.” Let’s look first at a few dictionary definitions.


Adjective: Of, relating to, or characteristic of people or human beings.

Noun: A human being, esp. a person as distinguished from an animal or (in science fiction) an alien.

Synonyms: adjective Human noun man - person - human being - individual - soul – mortal

This one was from Google, which grabbed it from and Wikipedia. Here is the problem though. I was told from day one of kindergarten never to use a word in definition of itself. In other words, you cannot say that a tree is a tree-like object. So how can we stand for saying that the definition of a human is “a human being?”

Natasha Vita-More, one of the founders of the transhumanist movement, has released a few different versions of what she calls the “Primo Posthuman.” It is a graphic of a genderless human form, colored entirely in neon yellow with pointers to different parts of hir body, describing technological enhancements that will be on or in that body. This image has been reprinted numerous times in different articles and media. In fact, it has become one of the most recognizable images related to transhumanism. However, the title is “Primo Posthuman” but it shows a human with cyborg enhancements. I would like to know why this fictional person was labeled a posthuman when they were most certainly born an unenhanced homo sapiens. Shouldn’t she be labeled a “primo transhuman?” As a sidebar, I am a big fan of Vita-More’s work, and she has been very influential to mine. I will be meeting her at a conference in a few months, and I will be sure to ask her more about this at that time.

So we go back to how we define a posthuman. What comes “after human?” Is this a being we would even recognize? How will we evolve biologically in response to our dependence on technology?

The second half of the animated Pixar film Wall*E shows how humans have changed while living for hundreds of years in a massive spaceship after leaving Earth a deserted, polluted wasteland. These people spend their lives in motorized chairs, never walking, never taking their eyes off the computer/TV screens before them. They are depicted as being entirely unable to care for themselves, and are waited on by robots. Although not a hive mind, they are easily swayed. When the computer tells them that red is the new color of choice, they all instantly change their clothes (via a color-changing material they never remove) to red. This movie was meant as a statement on mass consumerism, but it served as an effective argument or allegory for many different subjects, many of which would be of interest to transhumanists.

For the purposes of this article, we are looking at the humans in this film (although the robots are really cool, too). We see through archival footage aboard the spaceship that these pathetic blobs were, in fact, once real humans. We see the president of the Buy’N’Large Corporation, played by Fred Willard, as the only real human being in any Pixar film. Which implies that these pasty, cartoonish blobs are not computer-generated approximations of humans in an animated movie, but rather that this is supposed to be a live-action movie, and that this is how humanity will evolve over the next few hundred years.

This is actually quite frightening.

Think about it for a second.

The implications of this view are quite interesting, really. When we look at science fiction, especially in film, we usually get three different views. The first is that we will, through our technological advances, create a utopian world where all evils have been eradicated. This is prevalent in Star Trek. The second is that we will let our technology rule us, leading us to become monstrous hybrids, like the Borg…also in Star Trek. The third is that the technology will gain sentience, rising against humanity, and eventually causing our extinction. This is like The Terminator and The Matrix (which I believe, as a closet fanboy, take place in the same continuity alongside Dark City and Cube. But I digress…)

This view of the future we see in Wall*E is completely different than those, and in a much more disturbing way. Utopian idealism is fine, and we should try with all our collective might to get there, but nothing will ever be perfect. In fact, we will most likely never get anywhere close to it, unfortunately. The twisted machine men like the Borg or the people portrayed in the fantastic Japanese manga series Gunnm (Americanized as Battle Angel Alita) are frightening, but as unrealistic as the utopian vision. I seriously doubt we will willingly allow ourselves to be perverted into these monsters.

Even the eventual implants and limb replacements will, most likely, be made to seem as humanlike as possible. The third view, of a robot-dominated Earth, where humans are either enslaved or extinct, is often referred to by non-science types. Those films were so well-received that every time a technological breakthrough is made, people post quotes from those movies right below the articles.

Wall*E, however, shows us what may be a more realistic view. We’ve seen how people in industrialized countries have become softer, rounder and more dependent on technology. The United States is often characterized by other nations as being full of fat, lazy, uneducated, rich and obsessed with consumerism. This is a simplistic view, stereotypical at best and offensive to some. Without getting into a bunch of details this generalization does have some basis in fact.

And this is with the current state of technological development. Let’s take this concept out a few hundred years. Those who (and I must sadly add myself to the list) spend most of their time seated, eating, looking at various glowing screens and trusting Siri, Google and iTunes to keep track of our lives are just the vanguard of a brave new world, aren’t they? Imagine what life will be like after a technological singularity. After we discover we can replace limbs or use nanotechnology to obliterate the cancer we get from eating far too many In-Vitro McRibs.

Now, I’m not trying to be all gloom-and-doom here. And this does tie back into my original question. What will be a posthuman being? If we are human now, and we are using our technology to become transhuman, the step between what we are and what we will become, what is our eventual endgame? We should heed the warnings of Wall*E’s filmmakers. If we are going to become more dependent on our technology, we must make sure we don’t become…that. However, this leaves a lot of room to discuss what we should be trying to become. This is exciting. We can take the time - now – on the edge of great breakthroughs, to have a serious discussion of just what the hell we are doing. Although there will likely be many differing, even opposing, opinions of what posthumanity can or should be, perhaps there can be some sort of consensus.

And now, as always, I leave it up to the reader to continue the discussion.

At what point do we no longer consider ourselves human? When do we go from trans to post? Can we define what human is? Do we want to keep some part of it? All of it? Or do we want to toss it all out, start from scratch, define our own selves and our own future and become posthuman by choice instead of evolution? How do we do that? Most importantly, how will we know when we’ve done it?