COVID-19 Deep Dive Part VIII: Transhumanism
The concept of human enhancement goes hand-in-hand with technocracy
The Six Million Dollar Man
Fair warning. What I am about to say will inevitably make you upset. That’s fine, though, right? You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want to hear challenging, upsetting ideas.
When I say cyborg, what’s the first thing that you think about?
Most people’s concept of a cyborg is someone with metal limbs who can jump ten feet straight up, or keep up with a motor vehicle on foot, or punch through a brick wall with their bare hands. The popular notion of an augmented human is a facile one, perhaps deliberately so. It is superhero fiction with little bearing on reality, obscuring the actual status of human augmentation technologies as well as the intentions behind them. Transhumanism isn’t about stopping speeding semi trucks with your bare hands, or dispatching giant robots with flashy martial arts moves. That’s just how the idea is sold to people, as something cool and futuristic rather than the deliberate mutilation of the human mind, body, and spirit.
What does the word cyborg even mean? Well, it comes from the Greek kubernetes, or “helmsman”. The discipline of cybernetics originally had very little to do with prosthetics - more properly termed bionics - and more to do with investigating how complex systems behave and interact with each other, and what governs and controls them. If you’ve read the previous articles on technocracy and smart cities, then you are already familiar with cybernetics, at least on a surface level. Scientific management in business and government is, in a word, all about the practical application of cybernetics.
Wiener defined cybernetics as “the science of control and communications in the animal and machine.” This definition relates cybernetics closely with the theory of automatic control and also with physiology, particularly the physiology of the nervous system. For instance, a “controller” might be the human brain, which might receive signals from a “monitor” (the eyes) regarding the distance between a reaching hand and an object to be picked up. The information sent by the monitor to the controller is called feedback, and on the basis of this feedback the controller might issue instructions to bring the observed behaviour (the reach of the hand) closer to the desired behaviour (the picking up of the object). Indeed, some of the earliest work done in cybernetics was the study of control rules by which human action takes place, with the goal of constructing artificial limbs that could be tied in with the brain.
Consider, for a moment, the strict materialist’s perspective on life in general and the human condition in specific. Assume there is no afterlife, no beneficent creator deity, and that humans have no souls. If we start from these assumptions, then Thomas Ligotti-style extreme pessimism to the point of misanthropy is a natural response. Human life is absurd, painful, and laced with a myriad contradictions and hypocrisies.
Have you ever stopped and wondered why we spend so much on medical care and the military simultaneously? What does that even mean? Some people on this planet are worth saving from cancer, but others are worth scattering all over the place with trinitrotoluene? Why do we play favorites? Why do the biggest polluters on the planet tell us we need to cancel our pleasant little family vacations to save the environment? Why do world leaders make a big deal about protecting democracy while simultaneously pushing for online censorship that would suppress the vox populi? Why do the United Nations crow about preserving human rights and human dignity while their peacekeepers busy themselves violating children?
Actually, scratch that. All life is absolutely ludicrous. You’re telling me that amino acids clumped together and made proteins, and then those proteins decided to feed, fight, and do various other things that start with the letter F, all over the surface of a planet? Nowhere else is the absurdity of organic life illustrated better than in Terry Bisson’s humorous 1990 short story, They’re Made Out of Meat, in which a pair of aliens bicker over their extreme discomfort at encountering sapient beings with brains that function as meat computers. This short story was later adapted into live-action shorts, such as this one:
Let’s face it. Human life can be pretty grisly and sad. We’re constantly assaulted with media on all sides - both fictional and non - that depict it as such. Your average summer blockbuster serves as little more than a two-hour-long glorification of cool-looking stylized fantasy violence. When you get home from the theater, you put on the news and there’s some moron behind a table telling you about missing teen girls in such a way as to invite salacious and horrifying thoughts about them being dragged across the country and ravished and slaughtered like pigs by their captors. Then, not ten minutes later, this same dull-eyed buffoon reading from a teleprompter is rattling on about all the people we bombed today and how richly they deserved to have their severed limbs spread across the countryside and used as natural fertilizer. Not in those exact words, of course; they’re never that honest. Instead, they pretend that human misery is little more than a pretty fireworks display.
The purpose of this constant mental assault, this cavalcade of rancid obscenity, is never to inform, but to invoke ambient dread, and through dread, achieve horsewhipped obedience.
In the 1976 film, Network, Peter Finch, playing the part of the fictional anchor Howard Beale, depicts a man basically having a nervous breakdown on live television, and yet, the message still resonates with us today.
I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth; banks are going bust; shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the street, and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it.
We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. And we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be!
We all know things are bad -- worse than bad -- they're crazy.
It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we're living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, "Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone."
Well, I'm not going to leave you alone.
I want you to get mad!
I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot. I don't want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street.
All I know is that first, you've got to get mad.
You've gotta say, "I'm a human being, goddammit! My life has value!"
So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell,
"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
It sounds like it could have been written just yesterday. Gas prices are on the rise, unemployment is still terrible, the media keep blathering on about how we’ve all got microplastics in our lungs and our bloodstreams and are probably going to either become infertile or die miserably at a young age. Everywhere you go, it feels like there are people standing on every street corner waving signs for some cause or another. Violent crime is up, common sense is down. And, of course, there are the Russians to worry about. Do our lives merely proceed in cycles, ouroboros-like, the snake endlessly devouring its tail? Has nothing truly changed since the end of the Cold War? Did it never really end?
By now, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with transhumanism.
It has everything to do with it. This is the human condition. This is how we live, all the time. Like scared little animals, trapped in our houses. It was the way we lived during the Black Death. Oh my gosh, I hope I don’t get plague, I guess I just won’t go out anymore! It was the way we lived during the Fall of Constantinople. Oh my gosh, I hope the Ottomans leave me alone in my home! Spoiler alert, they didn’t.
The tragedies people experience don’t necessarily have to be national in scope, either. Everyone knows someone who had a loved one die of cancer or heart disease or a gruesome accident, or perhaps even experienced that pain themselves. Fate spares no one. The young are as doomed to die as the old. Even if someone lives a long and fulfilling life, avoiding any personal calamity by some miracle, and even if they were the most righteous and kind-hearted person in the universe, they still end up where everyone eventually goes: incontinent and howling on their deathbed just before being seized by the cold grip of oblivion. Suffering seems to be a universal fact of life.
This has actually been going on for a very, very long time. People expect it to go on like this for the foreseeable future. But what if it didn’t have to? What if this horror all came to an end, one day?
To Defeat Death
Many transhumanists in the popular consciousness, like Ray Kurzweil and Zoltan Istvan, are well-known for their expression of life-extensionist views. At the root of their entire shtick is the argument that we don’t have to die; that medical science will become advanced enough, eventually, to sustain our minds and bodies in perpetuity. They posit that, sometime in the near future, people will look and feel permanently twenty years old, having their lives extended potentially thousands of years.
Of course, this modern-day desire for a fountain of youth is little different from the alchemists of old and their quest for the legendary Philosopher’s Stone.
philosopher’s stone, in Western alchemy, an unknown substance, also called “the tincture” or “the powder,” sought by alchemists for its supposed ability to transform base metals into precious ones, especially gold and silver. Alchemists also believed that an elixir of life could be derived from it. Inasmuch as alchemy was concerned with the perfection of the human soul, the philosopher’s stone was thought to cure illnesses, prolong life, and bring about spiritual revitalization.
Mankind has always quested for immortality. It’s in our oldest works of fiction. It’s literally older than dirt. The latter part of the Epic of Gilgamesh is concerned with Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality.
However, the truth is, humans are not unique in this respect. Few animals actually want to die. It tends to be maladaptive. We are geared toward survival because that’s what winners do, in a strictly Darwinist sense. Survive. This imperative is coded into every strand of our DNA, and trust me, I’ve looked. Don’t take my word for it, though. Read any molecular biology textbook. The chemistry underlying our composition is hilariously violent.
There are enzymes and proton pumps in your body, right now, that are taking the food you just ate and breaking it down with powerful acids to liberate all the carbs and proteins and all the other stuff needed to operate your cells. Every breath you take is assembling little molecular fuel-sticks of adenosine triphosphate so your muscles can liberate that energy like a bomb. Your cells constantly draw straws to decide which ones get to live and which ones have to die to make room for new cells. Actually, that’s an oversimplification. They don’t draw straws at all. It’s not a random lottery. It’s a highly organized, hierarchical process; a cruel dictatorship, executing dissident tumors in back alleys before they become a problem to the State that is your body.
First off, what is an animal? I could be uncharitable about this. I could be downright mean. I could say something like, eukaryotic organisms are basically highly complex kinetic sculptures gone rogue, set in motion by cackling mother nature. A cosmic prank, if you will. Most would find the suggestion morbid or even insulting. However, it’s a sardonic way of describing an actual scientific fact; living organisms are sets of free-floating chemical reactions that need to take in energy and matter to survive.
The central dogma of molecular biology - that nucleic acids become polypeptides, and those polypeptides fold in on themselves to become proteins - basically describes the fundamental building blocks of a system comprised of molecular nanomachines. Fundamentally speaking, a human being, like other eukaryotes, is a collection of various types of specialized tissues. Muscle cells, liver cells, blood, bone, neurons, all sorts of different cell types, clustered into magnificent macro-scale structures that we know as organs. Skin, heart, blood vessels, liver, kidneys, spleen, brain, stomach. It sounds deranged when you put them in that specific order, I know.
All of these tissues are necessary for survival. They perform the vital functions of the organism. Pumping blood, sending nerve impulses to command the muscles, detecting threats, interpreting and navigating through complex environments, et cetera. All animals have the same fundamental set of problems. Where do I find food and drink? Where do I find a mate? How do I avoid predators? How may I cooperate with other members of my own species to achieve these things? All of these things are done by our organs. We attribute these actions to ourselves because we identify our organs as parts of ourselves, but what if we didn’t?
When transhumanists like Yuval Noah Harari say that humans don’t have free will, it’s because they’re strict materialists; they are assuming that our organs, including our brain, are deterministic in function, and that we could discover this fact by probing our brain tissue. According to determinism, what we call free will is just tissue responding to a stimulus and then identifying with the decision after the fact. It’s automatic. In some cases, it’s arguable that humans don’t actually have free will under various contexts, like when we take reflex actions that are much too fast for us to deliberate on, as anyone who has ever dodged a full can of beer thrown at their head can attest.
Our organs and their constituent cells are highly sophisticated. We haven’t even come close to engineering anything like this from scratch.
No matter how truthful it is, nobody likes being told that they’re made of chemicals; it’s nihilistic and discomforting, and if you do it too often, before long, people will accuse you of being a Rick and Morty fan. If you happened to wander out on the street, lamenting this out loud and showing visible distress, like, “Oh my god, I’m made of chemicals! I’m rotting! Help me!” then sooner or later, you’ll find yourself in an asylum.
On a more serious note, people don’t really like how morbid and empty these ideas are, and how they reduce the complexities of life and human spirituality to an absurd contrivance of molecules bouncing around and bumping into each other.
People have a natural distaste for discussing these things. It’s taboo. We don’t like talking about the inevitability of death, or how we’re all just purposeless minds trapped in wandering meat vehicles, or anything like that. It strips away the most fundamental of all illusions.
All of our basic ego defenses are based, one way or another, in the denial of death and anything that reminds us of it. They even have a name for it; Terror Management Theory.
Conceptual Foundation: Terror Management Theory
The TMHM stems from terror management theory (TMT; Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986), which is based largely on the work of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker (1973). Becker took a multidisciplinary approach, synthesizing a long tradition of scholarly work to describe how the potentially overwhelming anxiety (terror) evoked by peoples’ knowledge of mortality—and the efforts to manage such anxiety—have implications across a broad spectrum of human activities. TMT translated these ideas into a formal social psychological theory, allowing Becker’s ideas to be examined under the lens of empirical scrutiny (see e.g., Burke, Martens, & Faucher, 2010; Greenberg, Solomon, & Arndt, 2008; for conceptual and meta-analytic reviews, respectively).
The basic premise of TMT is that people evolved to manage the existential threat of mortality awareness by investing in a culturally derived system of beliefs (i.e., a cultural worldview) that imbues their life with a sense of meaning, order, and permanence. Furthermore, the cultural belief system provides prescriptions for valued behavior that allow the individual to obtain a sense of significance (i.e., self-esteem) within the cultural meaning system (an overview of TMT is provided in Figure 1). In this light, one of the broader hypotheses derived from the theory is that awareness of mortality motivates people to identify with their cultural worldview and to live up to its values.
However, no matter how uncomfortable all of this is, we must strive to understand these concepts and confront them openly, if we have any hope of understanding what motivates transhumanists.
Transhumanism, like a form of severe hypochondriasis, begins first with the notion that humans are sick. Irrevocably, irretrievably sick. Transhumanists are, first and foremost, people who have failed to manage their terror. They have investigated tradition and religion and culture and found these things wanting. To the irreligious and non-traditional, none of them offer a meaningful salve for the fear of mortality. Transhumanists can’t see how their lives have any meaning or permanence, and it causes them immense distress, perhaps reasonably so.
This is why transhumanism is often categorized as a form of new-age spirituality. It essentially serves as a kind of religion based in scientism; an escape hatch for the hyper-rational. If you can’t manage your fear of death by believing that your spirit will end up on a cloud plucking a harp after your flesh rots off your bones, then it stands to reason that you will seek alternative forms of comfort, like the notion that we can simply fix this troublesome little thing called death using the power of science.
In recent years, numerous institutions have sprung up, like SENS and Calico, offering to find a cure for death.
Hold on. Wait a minute, here. What is death? We can’t stop it if we can’t even define it.
Death is, strictly speaking, the failure of our many organic processes to maintain homeostasis in our bodies. The heart stops, the immune system fails, bacteria long kept at bay start eating our tissues up until there’s a bloated and gaseous corpse, and we’re slowly liquefied and broken down until all that’s left is the calcium frame inside. Death does not discriminate. It’s not a cool and menacing dude in black robes with a scythe. It’s actually far more boring and mundane than that. It’s just the recycling of spent matter. There isn’t any intrinsic meaning behind it.
Why does it happen? Well, all the cells in our body synthesize their proteins from their genes, and over time, these genes become damaged by cosmic radiation, oxidation, copying errors, et cetera. When our genes become damaged, they can no longer produce useful proteins that we need to live and maintain our tissues in a healthy state. In fact, scientists recently found that many animals die after accruing approximately the same number of mutations in their somatic cells.
Analysis of the patterns of mutations (or mutational signatures) provided information on the processes at work. The researchers found that somatic mutations accumulated linearly over time and that they were caused by similar mechanisms across all species, including humans, despite their very different diets and life histories.
Evidence of a possible role of somatic mutations in ageing was provided by the researchers' discovery that the rate of somatic mutation decreased as the lifespan of each species increased.
Dr Alex Cagan, a first author of the study from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: "To find a similar pattern of genetic changes in animals as different from one another as a mouse and a tiger was surprising. But the most exciting aspect of the study has to be finding that lifespan is inversely proportional to the somatic mutation rate. This suggests that somatic mutations may play a role in ageing, although alternative explanations may be possible. Over the next few years, it will be fascinating to extend these studies into even more diverse species, such as insects or plants."
To keep you alive, your body is constantly cattle-prodding your cells into submission.
Too many mutations? Cancer cell. Kill it. Too many copies? Stop copying. You’re done.
Molecular cell biology is, according to the understanding of modern science, a product of trial and error by nature over an extremely long period of time. Our tissues actually have an expiration date built right into them, beyond which their integrity cannot be guaranteed. You can no more extend someone’s lifespan by lengthening their telomeres than you can put off the spoilage of meat by slapping a new date sticker on the plastic-wrapped styrofoam container it was packaged in, and the reason is because doing so doesn’t repair our DNA.
Hayflick limit defines the number of possible cell divisions and depends on the length of chromosomal telomeres, which decreases in standard cells with every cell division. In the simulation, the default Hayflick limit of a normal stem cell is 72 as an approximation of the realistic number between 50 and 70 (Shay and Wright, 2000). Each cell evolving from cell division is assigned with the Hayflick limit of its predecessor minus 1. If a cell shows Hayflick limit of 1 or less during testing, it is marked with light blue and will die at a Hayflick limit of 0 or less.
How do we reverse aging and prevent death? Well, actually, it’s quite simple, really. We have to go into every cell inside our bodies, restore their genomes to how they were when we were young, clear out amyloid plaques and senescent cells and other junk, and then give the newly repaired cells a clean bill of health by lengthening their telomeres and allowing them to keep dividing. Now that we know their genes are intact, it should be fine.
Just one problem. Every somatic cell in the human body contains full copies of one’s DNA in its nucleus, so if you want to make someone immortal, you have to perform this extremely delicate snipping and pruning and reassembling process on the genetic material of trillions of somatic cells in someone’s body without making any mistakes and giving them cancer, or busting up their chromosomes entirely and making them scream and flail and melt into a puddle of goo over the course of several weeks like a victim of radiation poisoning. Good luck.
Okay, so let’s say we’ve solved the technical challenges. Let’s say we’ve solved the problem of biological mortality and know how to repair people’s genomes with perfect accuracy. Given the strides we’ve taken in bionanotechnology, anything is possible given enough time and money, right? Let’s say we succeed in using science to bully our cells into giving us decades or centuries of healthy life.
There are a few problems that immediately present themselves. First, this does not stop one from being murdered, or dying in an accident or from an untreatable disease. Someone with a repaired genome is just as vulnerable to smallpox, car wrecks, and drive-by shootings as anyone else. Imagine being a 300-year-old paranoid wreck who never goes out anywhere or flies on an airplane or goes on roller coaster rides or anything like that. What kind of quality of life is that?
Second, there are the unintended consequences to think about. Do we give all people immortality, or just some people? What if we only let the very rich who can afford such complicated treatments receive them? How long would that last before you have a full-scale revolt on your hands? Okay, so maybe we can make everyone biologically immortal. Whoops, now overpopulation is worse, and nobody is ever allowed to retire. Say goodbye to working until you die. Now, you just work, and work, and work.
Third, there will be the inevitable religious and moral objections to it. There will be those who are repulsed by the idea, saying it’s an affront to God and all that, and that mortality is necessary for life to have meaning, et cetera.
These are all very common, well-traveled objections to the idea of biological immortality. Every transhumanist worth their salt has heard them all at least once. However, there remains yet another objection. One that few consider.
Making someone biologically immortal does not magically stop them from being human, with all of the strengths and weaknesses and critical flaws entailed in that. If you take an ordinary specimen of humanity and extend their lifespan dramatically, changing nothing else about them, then they will behave the same way they have for centuries. They will be bloodthirsty savages, given to rapacious greed and empty hedonism, unchecked by the promise of their eventual demise. Or will they? Now that one finds themselves biologically immortal, they may no longer obsess over the inevitability of death. As a result, they may no longer feel the need to do anything to create a lasting legacy, which may make them docile, or even sessile, incapable of any meaningful action whatsoever. It could go either way. They could become hyper-egoists, or succumb to ennui.
As one can plainly see by the thought experiment, the removal of biological mortality from the picture would significantly disrupt human life, affecting our drives and our motivations in profound ways.
It may sound anticlimactic, but eliminating death is actually the first step of any serious transhumanist project, not the last. Why would it stop there?
To Conquer Mankind
The problem with human beings is not that we eventually die. The dead do not suffer. They don’t care about anything, anymore, because, being dead, they are incapable of caring. The problem with human beings is what we experience while we’re alive. Our fundamental drives are little more than pathetic animal instincts. We love, because we want to breed. We hoard things, because we fear famine. Our lives are so depressing and empty and unfulfilling these days, we’ve resorted to drugging ourselves with benzos and SSRIs en masse while begging our brains for a few drops of serotonin so we can go about our daily lives in peace.
When you examine the contents of our lives critically, it’s obvious why this is the case. Many of us are trapped in a rat race with stressful commutes, soulless cubicles, shelves to stock and coffees to make. Modern life is a gray and empty hell of endless forms to fill out and regulations to abide by. All the life has been sucked out of life. All the juice is gone. If you need any proof of this, just look at freemium cell phone games.
Addicts will literally pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a dopamine hit from watching fake glitter shower their smartphone’s screen after a microtransaction. This isn’t a comical exaggeration. It is an actual fact. Humans have failed to adapt to the stresses of modern society, and now, we are faced with a cruel dilemma: learn how to adapt or die.
A mobile gaming whale is someone who spends a lot of microtransactions. So-called “whales” are the main target for microtransactions in free-to-play games, for example; they’re the ones who buy booster packs, cosmetics, etc. Tons of them.
According to data, in most top-grossing games, the whales represent the smallest percentage of users who are responsible for up to 50% or more in revenue sales of an app.
Gaming whales are special, rare, but very valuable users that every mobile app or game is going after. Whales are the users that are spending hundreds, thousands or even millions in a mobile game.
In a way, this trend foreshadows the eventual goal of things like the Metaverse; to offer the hedonism of entirely fictitious consumption as a substitute for the real thing. If the technocrats have their way, then in the future, you'll put on VR goggles in your empty hovel and be fed the illusion of impossible wealth just to give you a dopamine hit, and that will be the future of mankind. No more making things for each other. No more collaborative society. Just naked bodies curled up on barren carpets, blissfully unaware of the painful emptiness of their reality while paying corporations a fee to feed their brains with pleasure. How do we avoid this grim eventuality?
Transhumanism is not just an alternative afterlife theory. It aims to become a radical social project that addresses all human ills, for better or for worse.
In practice, this sounds a little something like “You can’t murder or rape anyone if you don’t have arms, legs, and a penis. So, we’ll just remove your brain from your skull and stuff it in a vat and feed it the illusion of paradise forever and ever, and you can’t die in there, either, and no one can ever hurt you ever again in any meaningful way.”
Did that sound positively unhinged to you? It might shock you to know that this is actually a common transhumanist talking point. There is an entire category of transhumanists who refer to themselves as abolitionists, and their goal is to abolish all human suffering. Literally. Not just death, but every humiliation imaginable. Arms itchy from poison ivy? We’ll get rid of that. Head lice? Awful. Having a physical body and having to eat and defecate to live? No, no, no, that’s embarrassing and gross, we must be free of that burden.
To see this school of thought in action, one need look no further than David Pearce and his manifesto, The Hedonistic Imperative:
Blind selective pressures have acted on living organisms over hundreds of millions of years. Darwinian evolution has powerfully favoured the growth of ever more diverse, excruciating, but also more adaptive varieties of psychophysical pain. Its sheer nastiness effectively spurs and punishes the living vehicles of genetic replicators. Sadness, anxiety and discontent are frequently good for our genes; they're just psychologically bad for us. In absolute terms, global suffering is probably still increasing as the population explosion continues. Human ingenuity has struggled, often vainly, to rationalise and somehow derive value from the most frightful anguish. But over the aeons, the very anguish which intermittently corrodes the well-being of the individual organism has differentially promoted the inclusive fitness of its DNA. Hence it has tended to get inexorably worse.
Most human drives are based around the actions of our hormones and our neurotransmitters. Our personalities are shaped by our genetics, because our genetics decide what proportions of these chemicals our brains and our glands produce. There are entire self-help forums out there where men fret about declining testosterone levels and wonder aloud if their xenoestrogen-induced gynecomastia makes them less of a man, and right next to those forums, there are other self-help forums where women fret about the idea that a testosterone-poisoned hulk of a man might murder them in broad daylight.
For a transhumanist, the set of standards by which we judge ourselves and others is faulty, because it begins with the faulty premise that natural, unaltered human life is desirable and beneficent, despite humanity’s long and brutal history of meaningless tribal conflict over resources.
One wonders at how extra-terrestrial naturalists might feel when confronted with man. How could one react, other than with gut-wrenching terror?
Other beings refuse to reveal themselves as humans are "dangerous" and "aggressive," Gallup claimed.
"If there is intelligent life elsewhere, they may view humans as extremely dangerous. Maybe this is why there is no proof or compelling evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence," the scientist wrote in his paper, Daily Mail reported.
"We pose too great a risk, and they do not want to be discovered," he added.
Let’s assess humanity from the perspective of an impartial outside observer, shall we?
Humans are hilariously, obscenely violent. They commit atrocious acts upon one another both reflexively, in the heat of the moment, and as a result of long-term planning. There was a moment in human history where a vast team of scientists worked tirelessly for weeks, months, and years to assemble the first nuclear weapons, all so they could conveniently incinerate hundreds of thousands of their fellow human beings in a split-second.
As a matter of fact, it was only the fear of these dreadful weapons that kept humans from inflicting the horrors of conventional warfare upon each other; the shooting, the bombing, the disease, the mass rapes. Or at least, it prevented war between the greater world powers. However, as the threat of nuclear warfare wore off and lost its teeth due to the delusional and delirious mankind’s inability to meaningfully assess risk, conventional warfare between great powers slowly returned anyway, and with it, the specter of imminent nuclear immolation for everyone.
Humans are, at the very least, cultured and creative. They sing delightful and amusing songs to each other about dying in nuclear hellfire.
All these things seem normal to humans because they are immersed in them from the day they are born until they day they die and have no real reason to have any strong aversions towards them. These unpleasant facts are normalized in their societies, and even though they may be upsetting for an individual human to ruminate about for an extended period of time, they will eventually find some distraction to amuse themselves with, to avoid the pain and existential dread that comes from thinking.
Actually, humans have invented thousands of different kinds of distractions to take their minds off the topics of violence, death, and disease. Games, books, music, religion, politics. Humans will invent literally any delusion imaginable to give their lives some semblance of order and structure in spite of the fact that their physical beings are steeped in an evolutionary soup of intrinsic lawlessness, violence, and chaos, just waiting for the opportunity to burst into horrid motion.
Some human nation-states have a thing called the death penalty, where they actually take a human who committed some crime or another, and the State kills him or her to make an example out of them and put animal fear into the minds of others who may emulate the guilty.
Humans also have a thing called money, which is the idea of assigning a numeric value to pieces of paper with the faces of dead humans printed on them and rewarding these to other humans depending on how long they perform back-breaking work. Sometimes, humans will skip over working and threaten other humans with weapons and demand these paper faces so they can use them to obtain food and luxury items. Some human nations will actually go to war and slaughter humans like animals to maintain the value of these paper faces, while the leaders of these nations hypocritically inform their constituents that they are undertaking a humanitarian mission.
Humans, like other Earth mammals, reproduce sexually. The process is intrinsically violent and invasive, to the point where their brains must absolutely flood themselves with euphoria-granting hormones to delude them long enough and distract them from the degradation of the act. A human male’s semen is actually full of neurotransmitters, like cortisol, estrone, prolactin, oxytocin, thyrotropin-releasing hormone, melatonin, and serotonin, which, when ejaculated into a woman’s vagina, are absorbed, enter the bloodstream, and - like a chemical weapon - alter brain activity to be more receptive to the male.
There are some human males who vegetate in front of computer screens all day long, sharing absurd tips on how to find a mate, proposition them, and ejaculate in them. Sometimes, humans imbibe a flammable substance called ethanol, literally a rocket fuel, to enjoy its toxic central nervous system depressant effects and make themselves more amenable to the humiliation and inconvenience of sexual intercourse.
Because of the power that their hormones hold over their minds, humans will perform these and other risky behaviors, in spite of the fact that sexual intercourse risks inflicting awful diseases upon them that will literally rot their genitals off their bodies.
Are you upset, yet? I did warn you at the start.
Did I say this was supposed to be an alien assessing humanity? An extra-terrestrial?
No, it’s not. It’s a transhumanist. This is how transhumanists approach the question of human beings; like a literal alien who is just discovering humanity for the first time in their lives.
Only a society of incredibly sheltered people, insulated from the realities and vicissitudes of man, could produce so many transhumanists. And really, if you stop and think about Western society, that is indeed what we have created; entire nations of coddled and swaddled people who are completely out of touch with reality, who think that food grows on grocery store shelves and the thing beneath the plastic shroud under the hood of their car is a very noisy box containing fairies and pixie dust.
There is a quote by the late writer James Brown (who went by the pen name James Lachard), often absurdly misattributed to the Dalai Lama, which goes as follows:
“What surprises you most about humankind?”
“That they get bored with childhood, they rush to grow up and then long to be children again.”
“That they lose their health to make money and then lose their money to restore their health.”
“That by thinking anxiously about the future, that they forget the present, such that they live neither in the present or the future.”
“That they live as if they will never die and die as if they had never lived.”
Indeed, it’s true. Western men and women imagine they will never die. They get up, go to work, come home, booze and Netflix, and delude themselves into believing that they will do this forever and ever, in a sort of time-crystal-like dissociative fugue state, and never have to worry about things like writing a will or choosing a nursing home to die in. The modern man is, like the protagonists of Peter Pan, trapped in an eternal childhood from which he cannot escape; the puer aeternus surrounded on all sides by the comforting presence of his army of Funko Pops and plush toys.
I swear to god, paramedics will one day find half of these poor people rotting alone on their living room floors in their apartments, smartphone clutched in rigor mortis-afflicted hand, its futuristic battery allowing it to play the episodes of Breaking Bad that its deceased owner was previously watching on repeat before their corpse was finally discovered three months later.
Clearly, if we start from these uncharitable assumptions, then the problem with humans is actually the human body itself. Human minds aren’t so bad. They’re sapient and self-aware, capable of reflection and a reasonable degree of rationality. The human body, on the other hand, is a needy, voracious, fragile, rotting hunk of meat that this poor mind just happens to be trapped inside.
If humans are to be free of the oppression of our own genes, set our own drives, our own goals, our own purpose, and take control of everything that motivates us, then clearly, we must discard our bodies while preserving our minds intact.
Many transhumanists speak of “mind-uploading”, or copying their minds to computers and living eternally as a simulated mind in a computer. Just one problem with this hypothetical process: it creates a copy.
It would be very disappointing if someone went to have their mind uploaded, had their brain-computer interface scan their brain tissue and encode it into a digital simulacrum, and then find that they’re still trapped in their very mortal and decaying meat-sack.
For this reason, transhumanists have taken to referring to mind uploads as “substrate-independent minds” instead. The crucial difference here, of course, is the idea that we may take an existing brain and slowly mechanize it, or perhaps link a brain to an exocortex and allow the individual’s personality and identity to slowly migrate over, such that the owner of that identity has no idea that their brain tissue is being replaced with machinery.
This avoids the problem of creating copies, and the resultant being, now freed from the limitations of the flesh, is free to upgrade themselves over time, as they see fit. This is what it means to become a substrate-independent mind; it means that your substrate (brain, CPU, quantum computer, swarm of nanobots, whatever) is mutable and exchangeable while your mind and identity remain intact. If one machine holding your mind breaks down, it could simply be replaced with another.
What in the blue blazes does it actually mean to become a SIM, though? You would no longer have a human body. You would no longer be driven by human instincts; the sex drive, the death drive, the need to eat and excrete. All of these things would become alien to you. You would be able to set the parameters of your own existence, with infinite variation. Whatever hedonistic experience you desired, you could simulate within the confines of your extremely powerful mind. You could grant yourself the illusion of having a body again, in a virtual space like the Metaverse. If you wanted to influence reality, you could have your mind possess a robot body and walk around in it. Or, if you wanted to be fancy, you could have a whole organic designer body bioprinted for you, and then have your SIM possess that.
Why would we do this? Why would transhumanists find this concept so appealing?
Well, I’ll refer to a lengthy comment I made on my last post:
It took me a little while to gather my thoughts and think about what I wanted to say in response. The thing is, the reason why people find this stuff so mind-blowing is because it deals with areas of science, politics, economics, philosophy, and meta-ethics that popular discourse does very little to touch upon in any meaningful way. Sure, there are lots of works of science fiction that deal with cyborgs and post-scarcity (or post-apocalyptic) societies, but most people are not acquainted with scholarly works on transhumanism, technocracy, Malthusianism, logical positivism, and so on.
There is a lot of ground to cover here. It actually all begins with a single, all-important question. "What are qualia?" Why do people experience, well, experiences? Look at popular discourse right now. Look at the things people complain about. The reason why identity politics are so divisive is not because they're a Left-Right problem, but because they're an Idealism-Realism problem.
The world is being divided into two camps; Realists who believe that knowledge is representative of an external reality, and Idealists who believe that knowledge is merely a collection of sense data inside one's brain. Look at the constant arguing about gender identity, for instance. One camp believes that gender and sex are representative of a physical, mind-independent reality, and the other camp believes that gender is merely a mutable idea.
This is not a trifling problem at all. It's a very big problem.
What happens when we extend this to various unobservables, like morality? How do rationality and the scientific method account for things like beliefs, values, et cetera? A dualist might say something like, beliefs come from the soul. A monist might argue that beliefs come from synapses firing, and that we can detect a belief bouncing around in someone's brain by monitoring their brain cells.
Because we don't actually have a complete theory of the human mind and consciousness, and how such a thing could arise from a brain, we don't actually know what values are. Some philosophical traditions, such as moral non-cognitivism (for more on this, look up AJ Ayer and the Vienna Circle), treat moral propositions like "stealing is wrong" as unknowable, vacuous statements which are neither true nor false. If we extrapolate this to every aspect of society, then much of human activity can be reduced to an utter absurdity. For instance, money only exists as a social norm, having no reality outside the human mind. Without the mind and the consciousness to assign value to things, then money is simply paper and gold is just a lump of metal. If money is meaningless, why work for money? Why do anything at all?
This is the position that the technocrat starts from; one of extreme nihilism where nothing is meaningful due to the intractability of the mind-body problem. This, of course, necessitates that the technocrat become a godlike being, a Nietzschean Ubermensch, simply to gain the capacity to assign meaning and value to things, hence the interest in transhumanism. Transhumanism promises to solve the mind-body problem by dismantling, reassembling, and reifying the body and stripping the mind naked, to increase the depth of sensory experience, and to allow one to objectively perceive concepts as they are.
Transhumanism isn't about making people live forever, or curing disease, or any of that; those are just bonuses. The true terror and magnificence of transhumanism is in transcending the boundaries of human intelligence, sensory experience, knowledge, and subjectivity.
There's an interesting collaborative fiction project that's been on the web for a long time called Orion's Arm, and in it, they have the concept of something called Toposophic Levels, which signify the problem-solving and correlative abilities of a transsapient mind:
The common conception of a cyborg as "someone with metal limbs and glowing eyes" is wrong. The true goal is to shed the human body entirely, to become a Substrate-Independent Mind, or SIM. To a SIM, bodies are just tools. The mind itself is housed in a substrate that can be seamlessly upgraded over time, enhancing their cognitive capabilities, expanding the mind, and giving it greater powers of reflection, philosophy, scientific understanding, mathematical prowess, and other cognitive attributes. What transhumanists actually desire is an "intelligence explosion", where we, as a species, surpass the limits of meat brains entirely, allowing us to understand nature and manipulate it with ever-higher precision.
A transsapient being might be able to do things like develop metamaterials with impossible tensile strengths, or design whole life forms from scratch. Imagine doing that with your current brain. Imagine trying to define an entire set of genes and proteins for an organism and their interactions. You can't. You can't keep all that in your head. A transsapient might.
I know this gets way off into the weeds for a lot of people, and it involves a lot of hypothetical technologies that haven't even been invented yet. However, it is also a fact that these things have been brainstormed for decades and decades, now, and millions of dollars of funding are being poured into foundational technologies to accomplish exactly this.
How far of a leap is it from developing a direct neural interface, to developing substrate-independent minds? Not too far. And then, once you have a person's mind housed in a SIM, how much longer will it take for that person, who now works in their mind with quaternions and higher-dimensional manifolds as easily as you might do arithmetic, to develop a better substrate for their own mind?
Our GDP is intrinsically linked to our rate of technological innovation. Scientific advancement is stalling. Moore's Law can only hold for so long. To survive resource shortages, we have to get better at squeezing blood from a stone, so to speak.
These people are trying to make living demigods, in order to do that.
Before we’ve even sussed out what a mind actually is, we want to upload them. You’ve got to walk before you can run, but I digress.
What transhumanists are actually proposing is far more radical than cutting off their limbs and replacing them with chrome ones that can punch through brick walls. What they are proposing is the replacement of the Human Condition in toto with something else: the Post-Human Condition.
This is not a small task, nor an inconsequential one. There is no way to tell what our motivations will be, or the things we will invent, beyond the point in time referred to as the Singularity. As a matter of fact, the Singularity is referred to as such because it’s the point where our predictions as to what the future will look like start to break down. Human beings merge with AI, become like gods, become superintelligent, et cetera. In other words, we become capable of discovering any conceivable fact, and therefore, developing any conceivable technology.
Post-humans will not be concerned about where their next meal will come from. Why would they be? Let’s say you imbued your personality into a swarm of nanomachines and then converted an asteroid into your new brain by shooting that nanomachine swarm into that asteroid with a railgun from a million kilometers away, and within the confines of that converted asteroid, you meditate on the end of the universe. Why would you care about mundane things anymore?
You’re probably wondering why transhumanists would want to do that, but I already told you. Scroll up. Read again. That’s how the average transhumanist fundamentally perceives the world; as a collection of obscenities. The fixation on taboo literally eats their minds.
If you want a portrait of the perfect transhumanist, just picture someone who sits on their living room floor, rocking back and forth, muttering and fretting about how many crimes and deaths by disease are occurring every minute of the day somewhere in the world, until they conclude that the human species is, itself, somehow intrinsically criminal and diseased and in need of fundamental rehabilitation.
Transhumanism is the realm of the overwhelmed and the anxious, and given how many of us find ourselves falling into that state, it’s no wonder that it has attracted a fair number of followers.
The transhumanist is someone who, when presented with the options of fighting, foraging, and frigging, rejects all three. His final form, thus paralyzed, is to become like a buddha and to put aside all earthly desires.
Unfortunately, he is too weak to do this on his own initiative. He has to replace his body and its dreadful longing, and the power that it holds over him, and only then will he finally be unshackled.
Only then does he dare dream that he will be free.
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