Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Downside of Transhuman Transcendence Schemes

Experiencing a bit of insomnia tonight. Reading. Thought I'd share an excerpt from Becker's 'The Denial of Death'...

Again, the modern utopians continue the one-sided Enlightenment dream. Condorcet had already had the identical vision in 1794:

...a period must one day arrive when death will be nothing more than the effect either of extraordinary accidents, or of the slow and gradual decay of the vital powers: and that the duration of the interval between the birth of man and his decay will have itself no assignable limit.

But Choron offers a caution on this vision that goes right to the heart of it and demolishes it: that the "postponement of death is not a solution to the problem of the fear of death...there still will remain the fear of dying prematurely." The smallest virus or the stupidest accident would deprive a man not of 90 years but of 900-and would be then 10 times more absurd...if something is 10 times more absurd it is 10 times more threatening. In other words, death would be "hyperfetishized" as a source of danger, and men in the utopia of longevity would be even less expansive and peaceful than they are today!


And a little farther down-

Utopian man might live in the same "eternal now" of the primitives, but undoubtedly too with the same real compulsivity and phobia. Unless one is talking about real immortality one is talking merely about an intensification of the character defenses and superstitions of man.

How might people act in a world of greatly enhanced longevity where there is even more at stake, more to lose? Might the fulfillment of this ploy to alleviate death anxiety actually magnify the problem? What horrors could be unleashed upon the 'new human' whose lifespan encompassed centuries-or millennia!-instead of mere decades, all in the name of personal security, or even for the attempted relief of ever-increasing ennui amongst the uber-set? Who the ants scorched under the magnifying glasses of eternity's children?

7 comments:

lsp said...

Accidents and such threats to human life can be prevented by smart AI more effectively than humans worrying about them, so there isn't a strong selective pressure in the direction of worry. That said, it's a quite debatable point that being dead is better than being worried.

Karl said...

The great British philosopher John Gray has a new book out on the scientific attempts to cheat death entitled 'The Immortalization Commision'. As may be expected from Gray, the book's focus is on the futility of such efforts and what they tell us about the deluded nature of human beings.

filrabat said...

When I think of downside of transhumanist schemes, I think of reengineering ourselves in attempts (successful or not) to make ourselves superior or better in some way: intelligence, strength, reflexes, courage, focus, social skills, etc. In short, it'll create a genetic/digital augmentation arms race among ourselves. Don't forget the collateral damages in terms of botched genetic and digital enhancements (even with proper government regulation).

In the end, the only way it can be marginally worth it is if we use these technologies to eliminate our survival instinct/natural fear of death. After all, we're gonna die one day anyway - both as individuals and as a species, given the universe's inevitable demise.

The Plague Doctor said...

I don't know if the response to Aschwin de Wolf is still forthcoming, but...

(1) He overlooks that when immortality (after cryogenic revival) could be achieved, then such an event would necessitate a prohibition on children. The necessity would not be the moral one demanded by antinatalism, but a logical one, because the amount of matter is finite and the earth cannot support an infinite amount of creatures. The irony is thus that immortalists want to breed new people in order to achieve a world where breeding new people will not be possible anyway.

(2) His claims that "The argument that many of those pursuing life extension will not be around to benefit from it is too simplistic. [...] People in cryostasis have time." ignores that revival requires that at least some people must not benefit from life extension, i.e. the intervening generations of people that must die before the technology is achieved to revive these deep-frozen fuckers.

Rob said...

Good podcast of a recent talk with Gray discussing his new book:

http://www.thersa.org/events/audio-and-past-events/2011/science-and-the-strange-quest-to-cheat-death

TGGP said...

Being wealthier also means we have more to lose. Wealth still makes us happier.

Ann Sterzinger said...

Dammit, I'm already working on writing this science-fiction novel! No spoilers, man, no spoilers. Also: the association of Voltaire with a movement as supposedly cheery as the Enlightenment has always moved me to clouds of bilious mirth. If ever there was a proto-antinatalist, he was the guy.