My essay “YES, I am a believer” does not contain the word “robot” or refer to robotics, and I am not very interested in robots (I prefer cyber angels). But, predictably, anti-transhumanist blogger Dale Carrico replies with a post titled “Robot Cultist Admits He’s A Robot Cultist.” He says:
“I’ve been pointing out the obvious for years and he’s been whining about me calling him mean names for all those years, but Giulio Prisco has now proudly declared that he is a full on fulminating wish-fulfilment fantasist skimming a few hyperbolic tech company press releases and some new agey pop-tech journalism clichés and some hoary science fiction conventions and mixing them into a faith-based initiative dreaming of Making It Big and become Raelianism or Scientology or Mormonism some day. The Very Serious Futurologists at the would-be stealth Robot Cult outfit IEET, the so-called “Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies” (of which Prisco is a Director) have published Prisco’s declaration and it has attracted enormous positive comment there, exactly as I would expect.”
There is a lot of meaningless noise here, but I believe he refers to “Future magic will permit achieving, by scientific means, most of the promises of religions — and many amazing things that no human religion ever dreamed. Future Gods will be able to resurrect the dead by ‘copying them to the future.’ Perhaps we will be resurrected in virtual reality, and perhaps we are already there.” He sees that I and other spiritual transhumanists advocate a convergence of transhumanist science and religion, cosmist spirituality and technology, and plan to build/become God(s) and engineer resurrection with science and technology, and he calls us a “Robot cult.” I prefer “Religion 2.0.”
Most of the comments to my article on the IEET site are indeed surprisingly positive, more so than I hoped. IEET articles about religion always attract many comments, see for example a previous article by George Dvorsky on “Why Humanists Need to Make the Shift to Post-Atheism” and the many intense reactions in the comment thread. I think this says something about the strong parallels between transhumanism and religion, and the need for new formulations and interpretations of religion (Religion 2.0) compatible with science.
It is true that Carrico has been insulting me for years (I must admit to having fun reciprocating his insults every now and then), but I don’t recall many insults on this particular topic. If anything, in a post titled “The Robot Cultists Have Won?” Carrico said: “[Giulio Prisco] has long been far more honest than is usual for a Robot Cultist about the techno-transcendentalizing impulse of the various superlative futurological sects as straightforwardly religious.”
I must admit to regularly reading Carrico’s blog, and that I consider him as an excellent writer and a smart person. A few years ago I used to participate in discussions on his blog, but he is only comfortable with his followers and cannot take criticism, so one day he told me that I was no longer welcome.
When he forgets for a moment his juvenile predilection for lies and personal insults, Carrico understands transhumanism better than most transhumanists. In particular, he understands that transhumanism is more about soft aesthetics than about hard rationality and science (we are really science fiction fans, like it or not), and that transhumanist aesthetics is but an alternative formulation of religious aesthetics (I propose to merge the two to make things simpler). Carrico likes to pretend that he considers transhumanist aspirations as scientifically impossible, but I suspect that he knows better.
In another recent post Carrico says: “I sometimes find that I am making arguments that have a certain kinship with some of the arguments at least some people of faith also make in defending their moral and cultural values from the more strident champions of scientism or objectivism. I believe that there is more to being reasonable than being scientific, and indeed I believe it is both unreasonable and unscientific to pretend that what makes moral, aesthetic, legal, ethical, and political beliefs reasonable (and most religious beliefs seem to be moral and aesthetic in character to me) is the same thing that makes scientific beliefs reasonable.”
I totally agree (Carrico will probably insult me for saying so). He even acknowledges that this tolerance of believers extends to some “Robot Cultists”:
“You know, although I am a convinced and cheerful atheist of many many years standing, I must admit I am not a militant about it, at least not so long as “militancy” is meant to indicate the belief of some atheists that everybody should be an atheist like they are. I am perfectly content to affirm, for example, that there are technoscientifically literate people of faith who embrace the secular separation of church and state and who struggle for social justice and who are perfectly lovely, reasonable people. Probably that includes at least some Robot Cultists in their transhumanoid, singularitarian, and techno-immortalist faiths as well, although I wonder if they really can have thought about their position very clearly.”
Again, I totally agree, and this statement comes as a very welcome surprise. (Carrico will probably insult me for saying so, and I guess I am not included among the lovely and reasonable transhumanists).
One of Carrico’s followers refers to Charlie Stross’ essay “Three arguments against the singularity” and reports interesting excerpts from the comments:
Giulio Prisco: In reply to: “I can’t disprove [the Simulation Argument], either. And it has a deeper-than-superficial appeal, insofar as it offers a deity-free afterlife… it would make a good free-form framework for a postmodern high-tech religion. Unfortunately it seems to be unfalsifiable, at least by the inmates (us).”
My question is, what is wrong with this. Some persons function better _in this life_ if they can persuade themselves to contemplate the possibility of an afterlife compatible with the scientific worldview. They become happier and better persons, help others, and try to make the world a better place.
In other words, the pursuit of personal happiness without harming others. Charlie, what the fuck is wrong with this?
Charlie Stross: Nothing’s wrong with that particular outcome.
Where it goes wrong is when the belief system in question acquires a replicator meme (“tell all your friends the good news!”), a precedence meme (“all other beliefs are misguided!”) and finally goes on a bender and turns mean (“unbelievers are soulless scum! Kill them all before they pollute our children’s precious minds with their filth!”).
That’s why I take a negative view of religions in general. It’s not what the founders say or think, it’s not about what the mild-mannered ordinary folks who use it as a compass to guide them through life’s heartache think … it’s all about the authoritarian power structures that latch onto them for legitimization, and the authoritarian followers (pace Altermeyer et al) who take their insecurity out on the neighbourhood.
Giulio Prisco: Of course I totally agree with this, which why I also take a negative view of _traditional_ religions. Yet, I keep hoping that we can find ways to use the positive aspects of religion (relief from life’s heartache) without falling into the negative aspects.
These excerpts summarize the pros and contra of the emerging transhumanist spirituality and Religion 2.0.
I suspect that Charlie Stross shares Dale Carrico’s negative view of transhumanist spirituality more than my positive view, but I am an avid reader of his blog and his books, and he does not put himself in a corner by pretending to consider transhumanist aspirations scientifically impossible. He knows better: “I’m not convinced that the singularity isn’t going to happen. It’s just that I am deathly tired of the cheerleader squad approaching me and demanding to know precisely how many femtoseconds it’s going to be until they can upload into AI heaven and leave the meatsack behind. Moravec’s writing is what turned me on to transhumanism in the first place, in the late 1980s/early 1990s,” he says.