Re: [new-tampa-philosophers] Fukuyama's Transhumanism

From: Galen M.
Sent on: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 9:57 PM
I would like to point out that natural selection works in all cases, artificial or not.  It works in all systems at all times.  Just because the rules are not to our liking does not diminish the work of nature.  I believe that, in a system where intelligences control their evolution, evolution will be abstracted to a meta state whereby self evolving systems will still be selected as part of a larger evolving system.  Where they are in competition some will not survive but in general the emergence of new species is not an automatic threat to old ones.  

Modern horses were a monoculture of the predecessor species, all of which are extinct, yet under human selection pressures a great variety of horses have evolved.  Natural selection continues, unabated, so long as creatures make sweet love.  

Many of the complaints about self directed adaptation seem to be born out of despair that the rules the have changed.  It is also possible that we may not be preferred by nature under these conditions, sad though it may be.  I doubt that would ever be the case.  

Looking at natural evolution; most new creatures arise in response to local selection pressures but ancestor species do not go extinct so long as they continue to be well adapted to their environment.  Creationists often ask: "If we evolved from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?"  It's a stupid question and the answer is obvious to anyone who understands evolution: there is nothing wrong with monkeys, they survive perfectly well but speciation occurs regardless because selection pressures differ over time and space.  Humans evolving does not make monkeys any less fit and their numbers are only impacted by our existing insofar as we compete for a finite ecosystem.  

The only ingredient that is so far missing for automatic life automatic variability between generations.  We have it, maybe they will at some point.  If every AI is like another then things wont easily get out of hand since every change would be intentional.  But that wouldn't be any fun.  I have no idea what we are talking about anymore, I love futurism and Bob just sneezed all over my mental petree dish so I had to let it grow.  

Best,
Galen

On Thu, Feb 16, 2012 at 06:42, Bob Shepherd <[address removed]> wrote:
Years ago Virginia Postrel wrote a book with the wonderful title The Future and Its Enemies. The premise of her book was that this opposition to where our technology is leading us is the one thing that conservatives and liberals (in the current sense of the term) can agree upon. But as Galen so accurately observes, being opposed to the future is like being opposed to hydrogen atoms. I'm reminded of what the woman told Kurt Vonnegut (who is in heaven now) when Kurt told her he was writing an anti-war book: "Might as well write an anti-glacier book, for all the good it will do you." Anti-war books serve a purpose. Anti-future books are just silly.

Anna, in answer to your question to Galen, I think that it would include much of what is said in The Singularity Is Near and in The Age of Spiritual Machines (which is a better-written book). Both the opponents of transhumanism (Fukuyama) and the singularity rhapsodists (Kurzweil, Vinge) make an enormous mistake in thinking that they can predict what the future is going to bring here. I think that they fail to realize the enormity of the change that is occurring and the consequent difficulty of making predictions given that enormity. For the first time here on Earth, and evolved entity is going to be tinkering with its own evolution. No telling what that might mean. I suspect that it means that all bets are off.

It's one thing to imagine genetic therapies to tackle the 4,500 or so diseases that we know of that have significant genetic components. It's another entirely to imagine the ramifications of even the most modest tinkering with our own biology, via genetics or neurological prostheses or both. Our neurological substrate, by processes that we do not understand, give rise to emergent phenomena of consciousness, qualia, agency, etc. What happens when we change one little part of the underlying substrate? Suppose, for example, that we discover that we can make one minor change and so improve our visual acuity so that we have the distance vision of the eagle. Does anyone really understand what differences even so minor a change would make in our subjective states and thus in our desires, goals, modes of behavior, social structures, etc? What changes would humans make in their environments if they saw in this way? How would those changes in turn affect them? How would a consciousness that saw in this way be different from one that does not? How would such a consciousness behave, and what effects would that behavior have on the underlying neurological structures of the brain that gives rise to that consciousness, given the plasticity of the brain? In what ways would even such a minor change ramify? And the transhumanist literature is full of stuff MUCH MORE PROFOUNDLY ramifying than such a relatively minor change would be. In addition, such people are talking about modifications in a highly complex system, and as we know, in complex systems, very minor modifications in initial conditions can have profoundly unpredictable effects. It will make a difference what modifications are made first, by whom, when, and where, and under what other prevailing conditions. THis is, I think, what Galen means when he says that the literature on this subject, pro and con, is simplistic.

Bear in mind that we are NOT simply talking about the next step in evolution here. We are talking about a fundamental change in the very rules of the game: Evolved systems intentionally modifying the direction of their own evolution. It's never been anything like that before here on planet Earth. This is one of those events that changes everything utterly. Please note that I said "modifying the direction of their evolution," not "controlling their own evolution," for only an extreme hubris would lead us to think, given considerations like those that I raised above, that we shall have anything like CONTROL there.

All that said, there is no stopping our movement to this next stage. We are already well into it. We were when we developed the first prostheses, like the grinding stone or the atalatl. I suspect that there are places on the planet today where there are children with significant intentional genetic modifications toddling about. If there aren't, this would be a great surprise to me, and certainly, there will be soon.

So, Fukuyama's is an anti-glacier book. A waste of perfectly good trees.

Bob


Robert D. Shepherd
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"E questo dubbio [about the meaning of life] e impossibile a solvere a chi non fosse in simile grado fedele d'Amore." --Dante, La vita nuova



From: [address removed]
To: [address removed]
Subject: Re: [new-tampa-philosophers] Fukuyama's Transhumanism
Date: Wed, 15 Feb[masked]:23:42 -0500


Galen, that wouldn't include "Singularity is Near", in your opinion, would it?

On 2/15/2012 8:20 PM, Galen Matson wrote:
You asked if we agree or see flaws.  Clearly we see flaws.  If I started from scratch I might make a different argument against transhumanism but could not at all be a motivated devils advocate in defense of his position here.  It's fallacious logic built on a weak premise.  

Though he did point out that a lot of transhumanist literature is unrealistic, amateurish and scary.  In that he is correct.  

On Thu, Feb 16, 2012 at 05:29, Anna <[address removed]> wrote:
looks like none of you bright minds want to challenge my irritation with Fukuyama's position.

As to Pete's suggestion, I think Fukuyama needs to start with classics, like Dawkins's "Extended Phenotype".

On the arguments from emotions, the one he is the most concerned is that if biotechnological manipulations removed our ability to feel emotions like anger, hate, or violence, we would in some sense not be human beings any more. He seems to be arguing that to be a human being one must possess all of the emotional capacities characteristic of our species. I wish him good luck to never needing any Prozac then, otherwise he would become inhuman.

Bob, keep the fun coming:)

On 2/15/2012 7:46 PM, Galen Matson wrote:
It boils down to this: "But it is very possible that we will nibble at biotechnology's tempting offerings without realizing that they come at a frightful moral cost."

Meaning, we are not moral enough to be trusted.  Best not to try.

He then makes a slippery slope argument: "If we start transforming ourselves into something superior, what rights will these enhanced creatures claim, and what rights will they possess when compared to those left behind?"

And then an emotional appeal: "We need a similar humility concerning our human nature. If we do not develop it soon, we may unwittingly invite the transhumanists to deface humanity with their genetic bulldozers and psychotropic shopping malls."

I hope this is not considered a convincing argument against transhumanism.

Next question.


On Thu, Feb 16, 2012 at 04:30, Anna <[address removed]> wrote:
The limited group of Thinkers on Facebook are not replying, so I figured I'll ask here: so, the most vocal opponent of transhumanism is Francis Fukuyama. Though I myself disagree with him on this, I would like to hear other opinions on his position. Please, take a look at his article on this topic and let me know if you agree or see any flaws:http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2004/09/01/transhumanism



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