Blog

Archive for the ‘philosophy’ category

Aug 24, 2016

Steve Fuller’s Review of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Posted by in categories: big data, bioengineering, biological, bionic, cyborgs, disruptive technology, energy, evolution, existential risks, futurism, homo sapiens, innovation, moore's law, neuroscience, philosophy, policy, posthumanism, robotics/AI, science, singularity, theory, transhumanism

My sociology of knowledge students read Yuval Harari’s bestselling first book, Sapiens, to think about the right frame of reference for understanding the overall trajectory of the human condition. Homo Deus follows the example of Sapiens, using contemporary events to launch into what nowadays is called ‘big history’ but has been also called ‘deep history’ and ‘long history’. Whatever you call it, the orientation sees the human condition as subject to multiple overlapping rhythms of change which generate the sorts of ‘events’ that are the stuff of history lessons. But Harari’s history is nothing like the version you half remember from school.

In school historical events were explained in terms more or less recognizable to the agents involved. In contrast, Harari reaches for accounts that scientifically update the idea of ‘perennial philosophy’. Aldous Huxley popularized this phrase in his quest to seek common patterns of thought in the great world religions which could be leveraged as a global ethic in the aftermath of the Second World War. Harari similarly leverages bits of genetics, ecology, neuroscience and cognitive science to advance a broadly evolutionary narrative. But unlike Darwin’s version, Harari’s points towards the incipient apotheosis of our species; hence, the book’s title.

This invariably means that events are treated as symptoms if not omens of the shape of things to come. Harari’s central thesis is that whereas in the past we cowered in the face of impersonal natural forces beyond our control, nowadays our biggest enemy is the one that faces us in the mirror, which may or may not be able within our control. Thus, the sort of deity into which we are evolving is one whose superhuman powers may well result in self-destruction. Harari’s attitude towards this prospect is one of slightly awestruck bemusement.

Here Harari equivocates where his predecessors dared to distinguish. Writing with the bracing clarity afforded by the Existentialist horizons of the Cold War, cybernetics founder Norbert Wiener declared that humanity’s survival depends on knowing whether what we don’t know is actually trying to hurt us. If so, then any apparent advance in knowledge will always be illusory. As for Harari, he does not seem to see humanity in some never-ending diabolical chess match against an implacable foe, as in The Seventh Seal. Instead he takes refuge in the so-called law of unintended consequences. So while the shape of our ignorance does indeed shift as our knowledge advances, it does so in ways that keep Harari at a comfortable distance from passing judgement on our long term prognosis.

Continue reading “Steve Fuller's Review of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari” »

Jul 14, 2016

Is physical pleasure bad for your health?

Posted by in categories: aging, environmental, life extension, philosophy

Philosophers have been debating the meaning of life for millennia. Billions of people believe that the principal aim in life is to experience pleasure, and they try to enjoy life as much as possible before they die. A minority of others, make it their life’s aim to achieve something which is over and above simple pleasure: not merely to help others, not even to help humanity at large. They aim, whether knowingly or unknowingly, to improve the evolutionary process of nature as a whole.

So far, so good. But it appears that the view we hold about our life, our worldview, has a direct impact on our biology. We know that thinking positively may help improve the immune system. But research also shows that people who aim for pleasure (Hedonia) may have an impaired genetic profile, compared to those who aim for higher virtues (Eudaimonia). There is a distinction between these two terms and it is worth providing a definition here:

Hedonia is an exclusive search for pleasure and avoidance of discomfort. It may involve increased emphasis on eating well, drinking, dancing, playing, and generally enjoying simple pleasures in life. It is contentment, gratification, fun, merriment, satisfaction and, perhaps necessarily, a lack of motivation to search for a nobler aim in life. One may argue that hedonia involves a risk that leads to bad health due to a tendency to excesses (smoking, alcohol, coffee, sweets), a general inclination to avoid uncomfortable physical activity, and a lack of challenging cognitive effort. The risk of addiction may be increased. Erosion of social bonds become a possibility when a hedonist is more concerned about his/her own pleasure and is less sensitive to the needs of others.

Eudaimonia is a term reflecting the highest ‘intellectual good’. It is virtue plus excellence, superior ethical refinement, cognitive sophistication, as well as other qualities such as persistent motivation, wisdom, imagination, creativity, vision and a feeling of purpose. The term has been discussed by many ancient Greek philosophers particularly Aristotle and the Stoics. In modern times and in a wider sense, eudaimonia may be equated with meaningful technological hyperconnection, or ‘Intentional Evolution’, an attempt to constructively improve the human condition in all respects (including those relating to the wider universe). Hedonia is found both in animals and in humans, whereas eudaimonia is only found in humans.

Continue reading “Is physical pleasure bad for your health?” »

Jul 11, 2016

3 Reasons You Are Living in the Matrix / How to Make a Red Pill

Posted by in categories: complex systems, disruptive technology, education, governance, government, philosophy, physics, policy, rants, science, scientific freedom

Appearances have always played a much more important part than reality in history, where the unreal is always of greater moment than the real.“
–Gustav LeBon, The Crowd (1895)

I’ve gotten no substantive response to my last post on vaccine safety– neither in the comments, nor the TruthSift diagram, nor anywhere else, nor have the papers I submitted to two medical journals… but I have gotten emails telling me I’m delusional and suggesting I seek psychiatric attention. And this of course is integral to the explanation of how such delusions as vaccine safety persist so widely when it is so demonstrably a delusion: the majority who believe the majority must be right because its the majority are emotionally unwilling to confront the evidence. They assume the experts have done that, and they rely on the experts. But the experts assume other experts have been there. Ask your Pediatrician if he’s personally read Bishop et al and formulated an opinion on vaccine aluminum. Neither has the National Academy, except perhaps their members have and decided, perhaps tacitly, not to review the subject. Their decision not to review the animal literature was not tacit, they said they explicitly decided to omit it, although elsewhere they say they couldn’t find human evidence that addressed the issues. So everybody is trusting somebody else, and nobody has picked up the ball. And can you blame them? Because when I pick up the ball, what I receive in return is hate mail and people’s scorn. The emotional response cuts off any possible inspection of the logic.

On most questions where a majority with authority is facing a minority of dissenters or skeptics, the majority is delusional.
In other words, you are living in the matrix; much of what you and people believe is fundamentlaly wrong.

Reason 1, as above, is that the majority forms its view by circular reasoning, and rejects any attempt at logical discussion without considering it seriously, so it is prone to delusion.
Once the crowd concluded vaccines are safe and effective, for example, the question of whether the aluminum is damaging can apparently no longer be raised (even as more gets added to vaccines). And when I or others try to raise it, we are scorned and hated, and ineffectual in changing the opinion supported by circular reasoning. When new research papers appear that call it into question, they are ignored, neither cited in the safety surveys nor influencing medical practice in any way. This paragraph is all simple reporting of what has repeatedly happened.

Continue reading “3 Reasons You Are Living in the Matrix / How to Make a Red Pill” »

Jun 28, 2016

How VR Gaming will Wake Us Up to our Fake Worlds

Posted by in categories: architecture, augmented reality, economics, entertainment, ethics, futurism, holographs, homo sapiens, internet, journalism, philosophy, posthumanism, virtual reality

Human civilization has always been a virtual reality. At the onset of culture, which was propagated through the proto-media of cave painting, the talking drum, music, fetish art making, oral tradition and the like, Homo sapiens began a march into cultural virtual realities, a march that would span the entirety of the human enterprise. We don’t often think of cultures as virtual realities, but there is no more apt descriptor for our widely diverse sociological organizations and interpretations than the metaphor of the “virtual reality.” Indeed, the virtual reality metaphor encompasses the complete human project.

Figure 2

Virtual Reality researchers, Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson, write in their book Infinite Reality; “[Cave art] is likely the first animation technology”, where it provided an early means of what they refer to as “virtual travel”. You are in the cave, but the media in that cave, the dynamic-drawn, fire-illuminated art, represents the plains and animals outside—a completely different environment, one facing entirely the opposite direction, beyond the mouth of the cave. When surrounded by cave art, alive with movement from flickering torches, you are at once inside the cave itself whilst the media experience surrounding you encourages you to indulge in fantasy, and to mentally simulate an entirely different environment. Blascovich and Bailenson suggest that in terms of the evolution of media technology, this was the very first immersive VR. Both the room and helmet-sized VRs used in the present day are but a sophistication of this original form of media VR tech.

Read entire essay here

Mar 18, 2016

Who’s Afraid of Existential Risk? Or, Why It’s Time to Bring the Cold War out of the Cold

Posted by in categories: defense, disruptive technology, economics, existential risks, governance, innovation, military, philosophy, policy, robotics/AI, strategy, theory, transhumanism

At least in public relations terms, transhumanism is a house divided against itself. On the one hand, there are the ingenious efforts of Zoltan Istvan – in the guise of an ongoing US presidential bid — to promote an upbeat image of the movement by focusing on human life extension and other tech-based forms of empowerment that might appeal to ordinary voters. On the other hand, there is transhumanism’s image in the ‘serious’ mainstream media, which is currently dominated by Nick Bostrom’s warnings of a superintelligence-based apocalypse. The smart machines will eat not only our jobs but eat us as well, if we don’t introduce enough security measures.

Of course, as a founder of contemporary transhumanism, Bostrom does not wish to stop artificial intelligence research, and he ultimately believes that we can prevent worst case scenarios if we act now. Thus, we see a growing trade in the management of ‘existential risks’, which focusses on how we might prevent if not predict any such tech-based species-annihilating prospects. Nevertheless, this turn of events has made some observers reasonably wonder whether indeed it might not be better simply to put a halt to artificial intelligence research altogether. As a result, the precautionary principle, previously invoked in the context of environmental and health policy, has been given a new lease on life as generalized world-view.

The idea of ‘existential risk’ capitalizes on the prospect of a very unlikely event that, were it to pass, would be extremely catastrophic for the human condition. Thus, the high value of the outcome psychologically counterbalances its low probability. It’s a bit like Pascal’s wager, whereby the potentially negative consequences of you not believing in God – to wit, eternal damnation — rationally compels you to believe in God, despite your instinctive doubts about the deity’s existence.

However, this line of reasoning underestimates both the weakness and the strength of human intelligence. On the one hand, we’re not so powerful as to create a ‘weapon of mass destruction’, however defined, that could annihilate all of humanity; on the other, we’re not so weak as to be unable to recover from whatever errors of design or judgement that might be committed in the normal advance of science and technology in the human life-world. I make this point not to counsel complacency but to question whether ‘existential risk’ is really the high concept that it is cracked up to be. I don’t believe it is.

Continue reading “Who's Afraid of Existential Risk? Or, Why It's Time to Bring the Cold War out of the Cold” »

Mar 17, 2016

Don’t Turn Away From the Art of Life — By Arnold Weinstein | The New York Times

Posted by in categories: education, philosophy

23edweinsteinart-master675

“In a letter written in 1871, the Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud uttered a phrase that announces the modern age: “‘Je’ est un autre” (“‘I’ is someone else”). Some 69 years later I entered the world as an identical twin, and Rimbaud’s claim has an uncanny truth for me, since I grew up being one of a pair. Even though our friends and family could easily tell us apart, most people could not, and I began life with a blurrier, more fluid sense of my contours than most other folks.”

Read more

Jan 29, 2016

The 21st Century Philosophers — By Melanie Ruiz | OZY

Posted by in categories: futurism, philosophy, robotics/AI

86999_natesoares_washburn_008

““If you think it’s too early to think about something, it’s probably slightly too late.””

Read more

Nov 21, 2015

Why it matters that you realize you’re in a computer simulation

Posted by in categories: entertainment, futurism, philosophy, virtual reality

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 2.59.28 PM

What if our universe is something like a computer simulation, or a virtual reality, or a video game? The proposition that the universe is actually a computer simulation was furthered in a big way during the 1970s, when John Conway famously proved that if you take a binary system, and subject that system to only a few rules (in the case of Conway’s experiment, four); then that system creates something rather peculiar.

Read more

Oct 30, 2015

Philosophy will be the key that unlocks artificial intelligence — By David Deutsch | The Guardian

Posted by in categories: futurism, philosophy, robotics/AI

Human-brain-012

“AI is achievable, but it will take more than computer science and neuroscience to develop machines that think like people”

Read more

Oct 28, 2015

Humanity on a Budget, or the Value-Added of Being ‘Human’

Posted by in categories: automation, economics, futurism, governance, human trajectories, law, philosophy, policy, posthumanism, theory, transhumanism

This piece is dedicated to Stefan Stern, who picked up on – and ran with – a remark I made at this year’s Brain Bar Budapest, concerning the need for a ‘value-added’ account of being ‘human’ in a world in which there are many drivers towards replacing human labour with ever smarter technologies.

In what follows, I assume that ‘human’ can no longer be taken for granted as something that adds value to being-in-the-world. The value needs to be earned, it can’t be just inherited. For example, according to animal rights activists, ‘value-added’ claims to brand ‘humanity’ amount to an unjustified privileging of the human life-form, whereas artificial intelligence enthusiasts argue that computers will soon exceed humans at the (‘rational’) tasks that we have historically invoked to create distance from animals. I shall be more concerned with the latter threat, as it comes from a more recognizable form of ‘economistic’ logic.

Economics makes an interesting but subtle distinction between ‘price’ and ‘cost’. Price is what you pay upfront through mutual agreement to the person selling you something. In contrast, cost consists in the resources that you forfeit by virtue of possessing the thing. Of course, the cost of something includes its price, but typically much more – and much of it experienced only once you’ve come into possession. Thus, we say ‘hidden cost’ but not ‘hidden price’. The difference between price and cost is perhaps most vivid when considering large life-defining purchases, such as a house or a car. In these cases, any hidden costs are presumably offset by ‘benefits’, the things that you originally wanted — or at least approve after the fact — that follow from possession.

Now, think about the difference between saying, ‘Humanity comes at a price’ and ‘Humanity comes at a cost’. The first phrase suggests what you need to pay your master to acquire freedom, while the second suggests what you need to suffer as you exercise your freedom. The first position has you standing outside the category of ‘human’ but wishing to get in – say, as a prospective resident of a gated community. The second position already identifies you as ‘human’ but perhaps without having fully realized what you had bargained for. The philosophical movement of Existentialism was launched in the mid-20th century by playing with the irony implied in the idea of ‘human emancipation’ – the ease with which the Hell we wish to leave (and hence pay the price) morphs into the Hell we agree to enter (and hence suffer the cost). Thus, our humanity reduces to the leap out of the frying pan of slavery and into the fire of freedom.

Continue reading “Humanity on a Budget, or the Value-Added of Being 'Human'” »

Page 1 of 1512345678Last