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RE: [biopoet] Re: Re the Human, Posthuman and Transhuman (& the arts)

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  • mike99
    Hi Mike Tintner, When two Mike s converse online, we d be wise not to be on a first name basis ;) Transhuman and posthuman beings may have very different
    Message 1 of 15 , Jan 9, 2006
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      Hi Mike Tintner,
      When two Mike's converse online, we'd be wise not to be on a "first name" basis ;)
       
      Transhuman and posthuman beings may have very different sexual situations from unaugmented humanity. Today sexual identity is fairly well fixed by an individual's genetics and prenatal hormonal environment. While sex reassignment surgery is possible, it's fairly rare. But as medical technology advances, more science-fictional possibilities arise for gender-bending, switching and expansion of abilities beyond anything appearing in the old human nature.
       
      Similarly, when artificial wombs are developed, and synthetic genomes become workable, the necessary linkages will be weakened, or even severed, between human sperm, eggs, and wombs for reproduction. Designer-babies may be the offspring of choice.
       
      Economics will also be affected. If nanotechnology develops the way its founder, Eric Drexler, imagines, then superabundance will become the norm. No longer will it be necessary to earn one's living by the sweat of one's brow -- or by mining one's carpal tunnel over a hot keyboard, as it were.
       
      Will this mean an end to human striving?
       
      I don't think so. No matter how rich, beautiful, sexy and long-lived we may become, there will still probably be a competitive struggle for prestige, power and perquisites. The Darwinian struggle will move to a new level. The evolutionary psychology of posthumanity will be played out in a different theater, and some aspects of the drama will no doubt be different, but the play will go on.
       
      So far, the only authors of fiction to deal with these issues are those who write in the science fiction genre. (I know, I know: this is considered to be slumming. I disagree.) Among these authors, the one I would recommend most highly is John C. Wright, whose GOLDEN AGE trilogy touches on many transhumanist issues in the context of the story of a great man's fall, the loss of his great love, and his ultimate triumph.
       
      Regards,
      Mike LaTorra
      -----Original Message-----
      From: biopoet@yahoogroups.com [mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups.com]On Behalf Of Mike Tintner
      Sent: Sunday, January 08, 2006 5:05 PM
      To: biopoet@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: [biopoet] Re: Re the Human, Posthuman and Transhuman (& the arts)


      - Mike LaTorra wrote:
      >
      > Addressing the "Posthuman" and "Transhuman" aspects
      > of this topic, I
      > recommend reading more on those topics at the
      > websites listed below.
      >
      > Nick Bostrom's home page
      > http://www.nickbostrom.com/
      > Director, Oxford Future of Humanity Institute
      > Faculty of Philosophy, Oxford University
      > "Welcome! Here you will see what I'm working on and
      > find preprints of many
      > of my papers in philosophy of science, ethics,
      > transhumanism, probability
      > theory, and on humanity's future."
      > World Transhumanist Association
      > http://www.transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/index/
      > "For the ethical use of technology to extend human
      > capabilities"
      >


      Interesting. Thanks.

      I get the impression that none of this Transhumanist
      stuff really engages with the question of how
      fundamental human nature might or could change - or
      how the human condition of struggling to deal with the
      problematic decisions and activities of life, might
      change. (Or how might the relations of the sexes
      change, or the nature of sex and communication? Think
      of Woody Allen's futurist Sleepers, where sex is
      replaced by jointly fondling some kind of electronic
      ball!)

      What I've looked at seems to be focussed on extending
      life and improving our powers and health via
      technology and genetic engineering. It all seems to be
      a very literal, linear imagining of the future. Not
      that that's not worth doing.

      But that's only a quick impression. Any comments?


                 
      ___________________________________________________________
      Yahoo! Exclusive Xmas Game, help Santa with his celebrity party - http://santas-christmas-party.yahoo.net/
    • mike99
      Along the same lines, I would recommend THE NEW HUMANISTS edited by John Brockman [ http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/brockman/brockman_print.html ] which opens
      Message 2 of 15 , Jan 9, 2006
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        Along the same lines, I would recommend THE NEW HUMANISTS edited by John Brockman
         

        THE NEW HUMANISTS

        By John Brockman

        In 1991, in an essay entitled "The Emerging Third Culture," I put forward the following argument:

        In the past few years, the playing field of American intellectual life has shifted, and the traditional intellectual has become increasingly marginalized. A 1950s education in Freud, Marx, and modernism is not a sufficient qualification for a thinking person today. Indeed, the traditional American intellectuals are, in a sense, increasingly reactionary, and quite often proudly (and perversely) ignorant of many of the truly significant intellectual accomplishments of our time. Their culture, which dismisses science, is often nonempirical. It uses its own jargon and washes its own laundry. It is chiefly characterized by comment on comments, the swelling spiral of commentary eventually reaching the point where the real world gets lost.

        Twelve years later, that fossil culture has been essentially replaced by the "third culture" of the essay's title—a reference to C. P. Snow's celebrated division of the thinking world into two cultures, that of the literary intellectual and that of the scientist. This new culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, have taken the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.

        The scientists of the third culture share their work and ideas not just with each other but with a newly educated public, through their books. Focusing on the real world, they have led us into one of the most dazzling periods of intellectual activity in human history. The achievements of the third culture are not the marginal disputes of a quarrelsome mandarin class; they affect the lives of everybody on the planet. The emergence of this new culture is evidence of a great intellectual hunger, a desire for the new and important ideas that drive our times: revolutionary developments in molecular biology, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, artificial life, chaos theory, massive parallelism, neural nets, the inflationary universe, fractals, complex adaptive systems, linguistics, superstrings, biodiversity, the human genome, expert systems, punctuated equilibrium, cellular automata, fuzzy logic, virtual reality, cyberspace, and teraflop machines. Among others.

        Humanism and the Intellectual Whole

        Around the fifteenth century, the word "humanism" was tied in with the idea of one intellectual whole. A Florentine nobleman knew that to read Dante but ignore science was ridiculous. Leonardo was a great artist, a great scientist, a great technologist. Michelangelo was an even greater artist and engineer. These men were intellectually holistic giants. To them, the idea of embracing humanism while remaining ignorant of the latest scientific and technological achievements would have been incomprehensible. The time has come to reestablish that holistic definition.

        In the twentieth century, a period of great scientific advancement, instead of having science and technology at the center of the intellectual world—of having a unity in which scholarship included science and technology along with literature and art—the official culture kicked them out. Traditional humanities scholars looked at science and technology as some sort of technical special product. Elite universities nudged science out of the liberal arts undergraduate curriculum—and out of the minds of many young people, who, as the new academic establishment, so marginalized themselves that they are no longer within shouting distance of the action.

        In too much of academia, intellectual debate tends to center on such matters as who was or was not a Stalinist in 1937, or what the sleeping arrangements were for guests at a Bloomsbury weekend in the early part of the twentieth century. This is not to suggest that studying history is a waste of time: History illuminates our origins and keeps us from reinventing the wheel. But the question arises: History of what? Do we want the center of culture to be based on a closed system, a process of text in/text out, and no empirical contact with the real world? One can only marvel at, for example, art critics who know nothing about visual perception; "social constructionist" literary critics uninterested in the human universals documented by anthropologists; opponents of genetically modified foods, additives, and pesticide residues who are ignorant of genetics and evolutionary biology.

        Cultural Pessimism vs. Scientific Optimism

        A fundamental distinction exists between the literature of science and that of disciplines whose subjects are self-referential and most often concerned with the exegesis of earlier thinkers. Unlike those disciplines in which there is no expectation of systematic progress and in which one reflects on and recycles the ideas of others, science, on its frontiers, poses more and better questions, better put. They are questions phrased to elicit answers; science finds the answers and moves on. Meanwhile the traditional humanities establishment continues its exhaustive insular hermeneutics, indulging itself in cultural pessimism, clinging to its fashionably glum outlook on world events.

        "We live in an era in which pessimism has become the norm," writes Arthur Herman, in The Idea of Decline in Western History. Herman, who coordinates the Western Civilization Program at the Smithsonian, argues that the decline of the West, with its view of our "sick society," has become the dominant theme in intellectual discourse, to the point where the very idea of civilization has changed. He continues:

        This new order might take the shape of the Unabomber's radical environmental utopia. It might also be Nietzsche's Overman, or Hitler's Aryan National Socialism, or Marcuse's utopian union of technology and Eros, or Frantz Fanon's revolutionary fellahin. Its carriers might be the ecologist's "friends of the earth," or the multiculturalist's "persons of color," or the radical feminist's New Amazons, or Robert Bly's New Men. The particular shape of the new order will vary according to taste; however, its most important virtue will be its totally non-, or even anti-Western character. In the end, what matters to the cultural pessimist is less what is going to be created than what is going to be destroyed—namely, our "sick" modern society....[T]he sowing of despair and self doubt has become so pervasive that we accept it as a normal intellectual stance—even when it is directly contradicted by our own reality.

        Key to this cultural pessimism is a belief in the myth of the Noble Savage—that before we had science and technology, people lived in ecological harmony and bliss. Quite the opposite is the case. That the greatest change continues to be the rate of change must be hard to deal with, if you're still looking at the world through the eyes of Spengler and Nietzsche. In their almost religious devotion to a pessimistic worldview, the academic humanists have created a culture of previous "isms" that turn on themselves and endlessly cycle. How many times have you seen the name of an academic humanist icon in a newspaper or magazine article and immediately stopped reading? You know what's coming. Why waste the time?

        As a counternarrative to this cultural pessimism, consider the twofold optimism of science.

        First, the more science you do, the more there is to do. Scientists are constantly acquiring and processing new information. This is the reality of Moore's Law—just as there has been a doubling of computer processing power every eighteen months for the past twenty years, so too do scientists acquire information exponentially. They can't help but be optimistic.

        And second, much of the new information is either good news or news that can be made good thanks to ever deepening knowledge and ever more efficient and powerful tools and techniques.

        Scientists debate continually, and reality is the check. They may have egos as large as those possessed by the iconic figures of the academic humanities, but they handle their hubris in a very different way. They can be moved by arguments, because they work in an empirical world of facts, a world based on reality. There are no fixed, unalterable positions. They are both the creators and the critics of their shared enterprise. Ideas come from them and they also criticize one another's ideas. Through the process of creativity and criticism and debates, they decide which ideas get weeded out and which become part of the consensus that leads to the next level of discovery. Unlike the humanities academicians, who talk about each other, scientists talk about the universe. Moreover, there's not much difference between the style of thinking of a cosmologist trying to understand the physical world by studying the origins of atoms, stars, and galaxies and an evolutionary biologist trying to understand the emergence of complex systems from simple beginnings or trying to see patterns in nature. As exercises, these entail the same mixture of observation, theoretical modeling, computer simulation, and so on—as in most other scientific fields. The worlds of science are convergent. The frame of reference is shared across their disciplines.

        Science is still near the beginning. As the frontiers advance, the horizon gets wider and comes into focus. And these advances have changed the way we see our place in nature. The idea that we are an integral part of this universe—a universe governed by physical and mathematical laws that our brains are attuned to understand—causes us to see our place in the unfolding of natural history differently. We have come to realize, through developments in astronomy and cosmology, that we are still quite near the beginning. The history of creation has been enormously expanded—from 6,000 years back to the 13.7 billion years of Big Bang cosmology. But the future has expanded even more—perhaps to infinity. In the seventeenth century, people not only believed in that constricted past but thought that history was near its end: The apocalypse was coming. A realization that time may well be endless leads us to a new view of the human species—as not being in any sense the culmination but perhaps a fairly early stage of the process of evolution. We arrive at this concept through detailed observation and analysis, through science-based thinking; it allows us to see life playing an ever greater role in the future of the universe.

        There are encouraging signs that the third culture now includes scholars in the humanities who think the way scientists do. Like their colleagues in the sciences, they believe there is a real world and their job is to understand it and explain it. They test their ideas in terms of logical coherence, explanatory power, conformity with empirical facts. They do not defer to intellectual authorities: Anyone's ideas can be challenged, and understanding and knowledge accumulate through such challenges. They are not reducing the humanities to biological and physical principles, but they do believe that art, literature, history, politics—a whole panoply of humanist concerns—need to take the sciences into account.

        Connections do exist: Our arts, our philosophies, our literature are the product of human minds interacting with one another, and the human mind is a product of the human brain, which is organized in part by the human genome and evolved by the physical processes of evolution. Like scientists, the science-based humanities scholars are intellectually eclectic, seeking ideas from a variety of sources and adopting the ones that prove their worth, rather than working within "systems" or "schools." As such, they are not Marxist scholars or Freudian scholars or Catholic scholars. They think like scientists, know science, and easily communicate with scientists; their principal difference from scientists is in the subject matter they write about, not their intellectual style. Science-based thinking among enlightened humanities scholars is now part of public culture.

        In short, something radically new is in the air: new ways of understanding physical systems, new ways of thinking about thinking that call into question many of our basic assumptions. A realistic biology of the mind, advances in physics, information technology, genetics, neurobiology, engineering, the chemistry of materials—all are challenging basic assumptions of who and what we are, of what it means to be human. The arts and the sciences are again joining together as one culture, the third culture. Those involved in this effort—on either side of C.P. Snow's old divide—are at the center of today's intellectual action. They are the new humanists.

         
         
        -----Original Message-----
        From: biopoet@yahoogroups.com [mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups.com]On Behalf Of eugenehalton
        Sent: Sunday, January 08, 2006 8:57 PM
        To: biopoet@yahoogroups.com
        Subject: [biopoet] Re: Re the Human, Posthuman and Transhuman (& the two cultures)

        David Lavery has updated C.P Snow's "two cultures" distinction,
        claiming that the "two cultures" prominent in the contemporary
        imagination are those of space versus earth, of those who would flee
        our swirling globe of life in a dream of unlimited progress and those
        who accept earth-limits as a condition of life. The former condition,
        space-age consciousness, manifests not only in literal technicalism
        and scientism, but in a wide variety of "spaciness." See David
        Lavery: Late for the Sky: The Mentality of the Space Age. Carbondale,
        IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992.

        Lavery's two cultures shed interesting light on Snow's. "Scientist"
        or "humanist" does not necessarily define how one comes down on earth-
        escaping versus earth-embracing. 

        Gene Halton



        --- In biopoet@yahoogroups.com, Mike Tintner <andarot@y...> wrote:
        >
        >
        > - Mike LaTorra wrote:
        > >
        > > Addressing the "Posthuman" and "Transhuman" aspects
        > > of this topic, I
        > > recommend reading more on those topics at the
        > > websites listed below.
        > >
        > > Nick Bostrom's home page
        > > http://www.nickbostrom.com/
        > > Director, Oxford Future of Humanity Institute
        > > Faculty of Philosophy, Oxford University
        > > "Welcome! Here you will see what I'm working on and
        > > find preprints of many
        > > of my papers in philosophy of science, ethics,
        > > transhumanism, probability
        > > theory, and on humanity's future."
        > > World Transhumanist Association
        > > http://www.transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/index/
        > > "For the ethical use of technology to extend human
        > > capabilities"
        > >
        >
        >
        > Interesting. Thanks.
        >
        > I get the impression that none of this Transhumanist
        > stuff really engages with the question of how
        > fundamental human nature might or could change - or
        > how the human condition of struggling to deal with the
        > problematic decisions and activities of life, might
        > change. (Or how might the relations of the sexes
        > change, or the nature of sex and communication? Think
        > of Woody Allen's futurist Sleepers, where sex is
        > replaced by jointly fondling some kind of electronic
        > ball!)
        >
        > What I've looked at seems to be focussed on extending
        > life and improving our powers and health via
        > technology and genetic engineering. It all seems to be
        > a very literal, linear imagining of the future. Not
        > that that's not worth doing.
        >
        > But that's only a quick impression. Any comments?
        >
        >
        >            
        > ___________________________________________________________
        > Yahoo! Exclusive Xmas Game, help Santa with his celebrity party -
        http://santas-christmas-party.yahoo.net/
        >




      • oleaneric
        Mike wrote: So far, the only authors of fiction to deal with these issues are those who write in the science fiction genre. (I know, I know: this is
        Message 3 of 15 , Jan 10, 2006
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          Mike wrote:

          "So far, the only authors of fiction to deal with these issues are
          those who write in the science fiction genre. (I know, I know: this is
          considered to be slumming. I disagree.) Among these authors, the one I
          would recommend most highly is John C. Wright, whose GOLDEN AGE trilogy
          touches on many transhumanist issues in the context of the story of a
          great man's fall, the loss of his great love, and his ultimate triumph."

          Mike,

          I seem to remember a surprising number of people on this list including
          sci-fi books on their personal lists of top 20th century novels. So
          your assumption that we think it's slumming might well be false!

          Eric
        • mike99
          Hi Eric, Can you direct me to that list of favorite books of list members? Thanks. Mike LaTorra ... From: biopoet@yahoogroups.com
          Message 4 of 15 , Jan 11, 2006
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            Hi Eric,
            Can you direct me to that list of favorite books of list members?
             
            Thanks.
             
            Mike LaTorra
            -----Original Message-----
            From: biopoet@yahoogroups.com [mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups.com]On Behalf Of oleaneric
            Sent: Tuesday, January 10, 2006 3:13 PM
            To: biopoet@yahoogroups.com
            Subject: [biopoet] Re: Re the Human, Posthuman and Transhuman (& the arts)

            Mike wrote:

            "So far, the only authors of fiction to deal with these issues are
            those who write in the science fiction genre. (I know, I know: this is
            considered to be slumming. I disagree.) Among these authors, the one I
            would recommend most highly is John C. Wright, whose GOLDEN AGE trilogy
            touches on many transhumanist issues in the context of the story of a
            great man's fall, the loss of his great love, and his ultimate triumph."

            Mike,

            I seem to remember a surprising number of people on this list including
            sci-fi books on their personal lists of top 20th century novels.  So
            your assumption that we think it's slumming might well be false!

            Eric



          • Tom Dolack
            Mike: http://www.uoregon.edu/~tdolack/biopoet/msg00625.html Then click thread next to follow up. (this dates from the previous incarnation of this list) And
            Message 5 of 15 , Jan 11, 2006
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              Mike:

              http://www.uoregon.edu/~tdolack/biopoet/msg00625.html

              Then click “thread next” to follow up. (this dates from the previous incarnation of this list)

               

              And while I’m on the horn, might I add how pleased I was to see so much interest stuff to look at upon returning from my holiday travels. Lots of stuff going on at the moment, it seems. Any ideas on how to keep the ball rolling?

              Happy New Year (belated) everyone,

              Tom

               

               

              -----Original Message-----
              From: biopoet@yahoogroups.com [mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of mike99
              Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 2:46 PM
              To: biopoet@yahoogroups.com
              Subject: RE: [biopoet] Re: Re the Human, Posthuman and Transhuman (& the arts)

               

              Hi Eric,

              Can you direct me to that list of favorite books of list members?

               

              Thanks.

               

              Mike LaTorra

               

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