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Singularities Make Me Nervous March 28, 2008

Posted by Administrator in atheism, Creepiness, Cultural Pessimism, Death and Dying, Faith, Liberal self-loathing, Mechanistic Relativism.
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Ray Kurzweil wants to live forever, and claims that he will be able to do so after the upcoming “singularity’ occurs. He states that soon, we will be able to replace most if not all of our organs, and then after that, digitally “download” our consciousnesses onto computers, so that in the event we keep ourselves downloaded, we can live forever. Currently, he takes over 180 vitamins a day to prolong his life (so damned many pills, he has to hire help to manage which pills to take when) and sees a Denver-area physician once a week for longevity treatments. This physician charges $6000 per visit.

Somehow, some way, we all yearn for the unreachable, the immortal, the divine. There is that impossible desire within each of us for that level of perfection that cannot be achieved here on earth.

Aquinas taught many. many moons ago that this yearning for a perfection that we cannot know from experience here on earth shows that there must in fact be a God; how else can we explain this inexplicable yearning?

Kurzweil feels this. But as a committed rationalist, he must pursue his arid vision of digital immortality, and he sinks ridiculous sums of money into that pursuit.

What a tragedy it shall be for the man when he finally does die, sees that the old Manichean dualism is but a sham and a freeway to waste and misery.

(The title comes from a Larry Niven novelette of the same label and can be found in his short story collection Tales of Known Space. I recommend it without reservation. A scientist thinks he has the secret to unlimited power by harnessing the potential found in a quantum black hole. Of course, the man loses control of the forces he is manipulating and they destroy him. A timeless tale. Kurzweil is re-living it as we speak.)

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Comments»

1. rabbit - March 29, 2008

I think he might get it. At 35 I was just getting used to the hard cold fact that I was going to die. Now, the notion of living forever has crept in and I don’t know what to make of it. I think I’ll be okay to live to 239…

I don’t follow the argument that yearning for perfection proves that there’s a god. To me the question is moot. If anything, we will create God in our lifetime.

I agree that Kurzweil sounds a little kooky. But you can’t deny that some big changes are looming on our horizon. Hang on to your humanity.

2. demolition65 - March 29, 2008

What exactly is the nature of those changes? Advances in technology? At this point, all they have really done to alter the human condition is to extend lifespan, mostly through medicine. An argument might also be posited that there is a wash, as decreased levels of physical activity facilitated by increased technology has a shortening effect upon our lifespans.

I don’t see consciousness being downloadable. In the end, it cannot be quantified by technology.

3. grendelkhan - April 2, 2008

“At this point, all they have really done to alter the human condition is to extend lifespan, mostly through medicine.”

Don’t pass over that quite so quickly. Look up “actuarial escape velocity”.

“An argument might also be posited that there is a wash, as decreased levels of physical activity facilitated by increased technology has a shortening effect upon our lifespans.”

That’s the sort of thing one can quantify, and while plenty of the health problems in our culture are due to our sedentary lifestyles, the net effect on our collective life expectancy has not been negative. An argument like you describe *might* be made, but it *would* be wrong.

“I don’t see consciousness being downloadable. In the end, it cannot be quantified by technology.”

Well, that’s conveniently handwavey. So long as no one knows what consciousness even *is*, I don’t think you can make pronouncements on that one way or the other.

On a broader level, I wonder why this in particular offends you so. What exactly is the limit beyond which the application of technology gives you the heebie-jeebies? Would you have been agitating against anesthetic in the nineteenth century, because they’d rob humanity of the vital experience of pain? (True, there’s still plenty to go ’round, but that’s not the point.) Plenty of things we take for granted nowadays were sure to offend the gods when they first appeared. Why is this different?

4. demolition65 - April 3, 2008

“an argument like you describe *might* be made, but it *would* be wrong.”

That sounds like bald assertion to me. Why would it be wrong? Increasing obesity levels alone could be used to buttress my argument.

“since no one knows what consciousness even *is*, I don’t think you can make pronouncements on that one way or the other.”

??? Why ever not? If consciousness cannot be quantified, how in hell are we to possibly “download” it? Quantify the concept and the means of physically storing it by man-made means, and then you have successfully challenged my statement.

Why does this offend me so? It is the ancient heresy of Manicheism, the idea that body and soul are entirely separate and that the body is in some form fundamentally evil/fallen. The ancient pagans sought their release from this intolerable dichotomy by first pursuing immortality (see Gilgamesh), and then by committing suicide. Modern pagans such as Kurzweil seek the resolve it by also pursuing immortality and failing that, seek suicide (as this culture does by euthanasia). This is the same problem, with the same hopeless, arid solutions. Plus c’a change, plus c’e la meme chose.

As for the fallacious anesthetic argument, pain is hardly a “vital” experience, though it is in some senses unavoidable. Frankly, I do not see the connection you are attempting to make in bringing it up.

THis has nothing to do with offending the “gods” and everything to do with promoting an intolerable philosophy of human life.

5. grendelkhan - April 3, 2008

“That sounds like bald assertion to me.”

Life expectancy is not falling. If your assertion were true, it would be. Am I leaving something out?

“If consciousness cannot be quantified, how in hell are we to possibly “download” it? Quantify the concept and the means of physically storing it by man-made means, and then you have successfully challenged my statement.”

I think we may be talking at cross purposes. Consciousness is an emergent property of minds. Minds are quantifiable–they exist in bodies, specifically in brains. They function in very complicated ways, but there’s nothing magical about them; they’re subject to the same physical rules as anything else.

If minds (and therefore consciousness) can exist in complex arrangements of neurons, there’s no reason to flat-out state that they can’t exist in complex arrangements of something else. That’s the idea; thought experiments like the Moravec transfer make the point more eloquently than I can.

“Why does this offend me so? It is the ancient heresy of Manicheism, the idea that body and soul are entirely separate and that the body is in some form fundamentally evil/fallen.”

I don’t think anyone’s claiming that body and mind are entirely separate; the metaphor is more like a book (the set of words) and a book (the lump of paper, glue and ink). (Think of a manuscript rather than a mass-produced book if it helps.) The former is physically bound to the latter, but they’re separable in concept.

“The ancient pagans sought their release from this intolerable dichotomy by first pursuing immortality (see Gilgamesh), and then by committing suicide.”

I don’t know much about the ancient pagans, but that doesn’t make any sense to me. Ancient paganism isn’t obligated to make sense, though. Gilgamesh *fails* in his quest for immortality (well, for his friend’s immortality), which seems to undercut your reading of ancient paganism.

“Modern pagans such as Kurzweil seek the resolve it by also pursuing immortality and failing that, seek suicide (as this culture does by euthanasia).”

You lost me. How exactly does the desire to transcend the shortcomings of flesh lead to a desire for self-destruction? You’re trying to tie Kurzweil to euthanasia, but I don’t see where you’re getting it from.

Also, what makes Kurzweil a “modern pagan”? Does pagan just mean non-Christian in this context?

“As for the fallacious anesthetic argument, pain is hardly a “vital” experience, though it is in some senses unavoidable. Frankly, I do not see the connection you are attempting to make in bringing it up.”

The connection is this: when someone proposed to change what was considered an essential part of humanity, it was thought that this would be the end of the world, yet somehow we don’t think twice about it today. You’re drawing a line at the point where technology currently stops and pretending that it isn’t arbitrary.

6. demolition65 - April 4, 2008

“Consciousness is an emergent property of minds. Minds are quantifiable–they exist in bodies, specifically in brains. They function in very complicated ways, but there’s nothing magical about them; they’re subject to the same physical rules as anything else.”

As an “emergent property”, you are positing that in the end, we can explain consciousness. As of now, we cannot. We do not -and are still one helluva long way from- explaining that. May we be able to in the future? Possibly, but again without certainty. The mind is subject to the same physical rules as anything else is of course correct. . . but as we as yet cannot explain the how, then we still may not fully quantify, and as such, may not download. I maintain my previous skepticism as to the eventual ability to download.

“I don’t think anyone’s claiming that body and mind are entirely separate; the metaphor is more like a book (the set of words) and a book (the lump of paper, glue and ink). (Think of a manuscript rather than a mass-produced book if it helps.) The former is physically bound to the latter, but they’re separable in concept.”

You appear to be only proving my point. The mind is the words and the plot, the body (in the case of a single book) the binding and so forth. Your notion is to claim that the plot of the human mind may be removed from its binding and placed in another. That is Manicheism.

Gilgamesh’s failure to achieve immortality is beside the point. He seeks it. That alone is the point.

In suggesting that Kurzweil is seeking immortality in failing seeking suicide, I see that I am unclear. I ought to have said that Kurzweil could serve as a symbol for the culture’s seeking of immortality, and in so failing then seeks suicide.

My bad.

Kurzweil is a modern pagan insofar as he seeks for immortality beyond the auspices of the One God. This does not suggest he must be Christian.

As far as anesthesia goes, thank you for the clarification.

I cannot go back to the mid-19th century and tell you how I would react. I will state that to argue about the cessation of pain and the severing of consciousness as co-equal concepts is not only not to argue apples and oranges; it is much more akin to arguing apples and galaxies. Pain is still with us, yet would not seem to be so fundamental to our “being” as our consciousness. Pain itself, in its presence or absence, is not fundamental to our existence. Consciousness is, and in some senses may be considered as the core to our “selves”. The embrace or rejection of pain is not symptomatic of Manicheism. This discussion of severing our conscious selves from our material bodies is, and therefore, repugnant.


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