Cosmic Religion discussion, and plans

Last week I sent my article “A minimalist, open, extensible Cosmic Religion” to several mailing lists: turingchurch, cosmic-engineers, transfigurism, christian-transhumanism (Google Groups) and universalimmortalism (Yahoo Groups). This is a summary of the very interesting discussion on the mailing lists and this website.

Some participants are enthusiastic about my proposal, and most participants consider it as something worth trying. Other participants are strongly opposed to identifying as a “Religion” and using the term “God(s).”

I found one observation very interesting, a real eye-opener:

“A few years ago there was a transhumanist organization in my area… Many of the attendees were cryonicists but I remember one person there was not. I asked him once why he wasn’t signed up and he said that going for cryonics was ‘too much like belief in God’ and he was an atheist, an ATHEIST.”

This confirms my impression that some (I guess many) transhumanists have a mental fuse that breaks when things begin to sound like the religion that they try (often ineffectually) to leave behind. They seem mainly motivated by fear – fear of falling back into religion. Even cryonics, which has always part of ‘mainstream transhumanism’ discourse, can be sufficient to break the danger-religion-alert mental fuse. Of course our Cosmist ideas, and in particular the suggestion that remote/future agencies may resurrect the dead by means of “future-magic” science and technology, break the fuse immediately.

Even some transhumanists who consider our Cosmist ideas interesting and plausible feel the need to hide behind caveats like “Of course, this has nothing to do with Religion” and similar. I understand their fear of the R word, and I used to hide behind similar caveats until a couple of years ago. Now I consider this attitude elitist, and intellectually dishonest (my first entirely honest talk was my MTA 2012 presentation).

If you don’t take your own convictions seriously, who will? Why do you feel the need to apologize for your ideas, to others and to yourself? It is like starting a business saying (and thinking) “sorry, excuse me, don’t worry, I don’t want to make money.” I think it’s evident that the business will fail if it’s started with this timid and defeatist attitude.

Science and our transhumanist convictions, taken to their logical conclusion, say that intelligent life can evolve to X-like status, where X means extremely advanced and able to perform “magic” (Clarke’s Third Law). The universe is probably full of Xs, and we can become Xs ourselves. Xs can take control of the dynamics of space-time, create new universes, and resurrect the dead.

In the simple language that we use everyday (and we should use whenever possible to keep things clear and immediate) X is called “God” and this is called “Religion.” I think we must show respect to our audience, and to ourselves, and call things clearly by their name.

Plans: I will ramp up the turingchurch.com website and launch turingchurch.org, a virtual, independent, non-denominational, non-judgmental, online-only church open to people of all faiths. The first activity will be a third Turing Church Online Workshop in December (date TBD, will post a call for papers), then frequent talks, online meetings and online services.

  • René Milan

    “This confirms my impression that some (I guess many) transhumanists have a mental fuse that breaks when things begin to sound like the religion that they try (often ineffectually) to leave behind” – you really misunderstand, Giulio, at least my motivation for viewing religious association as incompatible with transhumanist principles, and i presume there are many like me. I am not at all motivated by fear, frankly, and apparently confirmed by you, not me, even bringing up the subject of fear, i suspect that it is those transhumanists that apparently can not live without not only the mental comfort derived from telling oneself that the universe is ultimately based on and driven by benevolent forces, but also the social comfort derived from associating with the likeminded, who fear to face the possibility that this may not be so.

    I have not been brought up in a religious environment. My father was an atheist, and my mother was a ‘cultural catholic’, who had both me and my sister baptised, presumably as a ‘just-in-case insurance’ gesture. She never talked about religious issues and i have seen her stepping inside churches only as a tourist, something that even i do today when i get the chance. Growing up in the very liberal town of Hamburg during the fifties we had a subject called religion in elementary school, which entertained and enlightened us, at the age of six, mostly in the way of retelling the famous stories and myths associated with current and past religions, beginning with those from the new and old testaments, going back to those of the european and middle eastern past, including roman, greek, egyptian and mesopotamian ones, then touching on islam and the hindu and budhhist stories. I followed all that with interest but after a few months decided that it was not relevant for current times or my life and asked my parents to activate my opt out right. Eight years later i had some business in the local administrative building and happened upon a door that was labelled: “Kirchenaustritte” (declarations of church nonmembership). The minimum age, i had heard, was fourteen, and as i was already there i took the opportunity to get it over with. (The reader should know that in germany at that time (and maybe still?) the state will continue to collect taxes on behalf of whatever church (in practice only cath or ev-luth) one ‘belonged to’, by virtue of having unwittingly been baptised as a baby without consent, for the rest of one’s life.)

    So much for your assumption that we “try (often ineffectually) to leave [religion] behind”.

    But apart from psychological issues there are philosophical, and even more basic, logical reasons behind my view, and that of many, which holds that transhumanism and religion are in essence incompatible, and here is why.

    Transhumanism is clearly the current inheritor, curator and developer of the enlightenment tradition. It was no great feat to realize that the many achievements of recent and current science and engineering have delivered tools that will allow for even taking control of evolution itself, something the genus homo has been doing since palaeolithic times when they added a secondary evolutionary engine to genetics by inventing language, but which now is less time restricted than ever and still accelerating. Transhumanism is concerned with applying the profound new and growing powers toward the same goals defined in the enlightenment tradition, namely growth (in understanding and power) and emancipation, while extending them to include nonhuman entities. These goals stand in sharp contrast to the essence of religion, any kind of religion, not only the classic ones that insist on conformity, often to the point of applying physical oppression, and are often usurped and invented, maintained and propagated in the service of political interest, but also the ‘kinder, gentler’ ones that sprang up in the 19th century worldwide, received a boost in the 60s with the invention of ‘new age’ ideas, and in the last fifteen years have begun to infect transhumanism. But even a mild and friendly idea such as the above mentioned belief “that the universe is ultimately based on and driven by benevolent forces” is not based on knowledge, it is just unreasonable faith. And the common drive to seek to establish congregations around these ideas is particularly pernicious.

    Let me explain. Every child makes up realities in the process of mental growth, and as a useful and playful (enjoyable) tool toward that purpose, and temporarily shares them (to a degree) with others. Many stop this practice altogether even before reaching adulthood. Others try to realize their visions through politics where they invariably run into conflicting visions of others and end up compromising at best. Some create them within the realm of business, which is a theoretically viable but ultimately corrupting method, and the same is true for engaging in sports or entertainment which are currently all under the control of capitalist forces.

    Those who continue the childlike inventive behaviour throughout their lives are the true (independent of commercial considerations) artists. Then there are those many who restrict these activities to the insides of their heads while managing to outwardly comply with the demands of the system and those who do not manage and end up in monasteries and psychiatric institutions.

    Then there are those who shift their interest from invented to experienced reality, and distill their childhood playfulness into curiosity and directed creativity, the former mainly used in scientific, the latter in engineering endeavours, but with constant integration of the two. Theoreticians, from philosophers and mathematicians to cosmological and subnuclear physicists generally run closer to making up their own worlds, while engineers work closer with what is doable in ‘the real world’ (עשיה). But all of these, as well as true artists, emancipated children and ultimately the creativeness of the cosmos itself, potentially, and often actually, constitute the lifeblood and the drivers of transhumanism.

    By contrast, congregative religion always needs agreed upon ‘truths’, which regardless to what degree objectively true or not, if that is even ‘objectively’ determinable, become its raison d’être and ultimately its doctrine (which does not mean that they do not change over time). The act of establishing or joining a congregative religion always implies a degree of conformity.

    But doctrinaire thinking and conformity stand in contradiction to and are exclusive of creativity and and curiosity, thus are nothing but hindrances in the efforts of effecting change and improvement of local and cosmic conditions. And here you have in a nutshell why religion an transhumanism are incompatible.

    Now before anyone attempts to counter with the lame, presumptive and patronizing argument that my attitude precludes me from appreciating the ‘mystery’, the ‘depth’, the ‘infinity’, the ‘divinity’, or whatever else, of human and cosmic existence, let me point out the following: i habitually am attracted by mystery through the drive to ‘solve’ it through understanding, have learned to appreciate depth through multidimensional perception and thinking, have learned to appreciate infinity as a little kid by by placing myself between two opposed mirrors, and regard the term ‘divinity’ as a declaration of capitulation by those who have insufficient powers of imagination which makes them retreat from reality. Whatever else you want to throw at me, i am ready.

    I shall also – again – publicly disclose that i have begun my psychonautic investigations at the age of 16 (continuing to this day) and subsequently successfully integrated them into my work as a clinical psychologist. Having been a practicing occultist for five decades i know more of religions, especially more of their essence (if they have one), than most. But my main operating motto is: “Abrogate are all rituals” (AL 1.49), and that of course applies to social rituals as well.

  • Giulio Prisco

    Hi Rene’, I am about to log off for the day so I can’t offer you the long and thoughtful reply that you deserve, I will reply tomorrow.

    Just one point now:

    I don’t “[believe] that the universe is ultimately based on and driven by benevolent forces,” I want to MAKE it driven by benevolent forces, together with the rest of humanity and other like-minded civilizations out there. It isn’t a belief, it’s a plan. I don’t “believe” that tomorrow it won’t rain – I will GO to a place where it doesn’t rain.

    More tomorrow,
    G.

  • Stephen Kagan

    What the reason for using the word religion rather than spirituality?

  • Giulio Prisco

    @Stephen re “What the reason for using the word religion rather than spirituality?”

    Because it’s shorter ;-) ;-)

    Really. Not only shorter, but also more immediate, clear, and understood by nearly everyone on the planet, in the vast majority of cases with a positive emotional response.

    “Don’t say ‘reflected acoustic wave’. Say ‘echo’.” (Richard Feynman)

    Say ‘echo,’ because it’s the word that everyone understands.

  • mitch

    Congratulations on the new website set up your undertaking,Guilio. I tend to look at your Turing Church, as to be taken as a fully, separate, religion, or handy app for all other religions. What sets your theology above many others is your embrace of the ideas and concepts put forth by Hans Moravec, and Frank Tipler. I don’t know what you yourself see things this way but from my point of view it’s a win win situation for traditional religions, Turing Church, and atheists of course.

    Of course I do not know how many would see your cosmic engineering as part of the great plan, for part of the great void, if one anything religious. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the origination of the word “religion” is from Latin, and means ‘to heal.’ If this interpretation is true that the Turing Church will have lots to offer people without a religious affiliation, or with an older one. Your addition Turing Church addition to human
    civilzation has a Transhumanist flavor, could be of practical use as well in bring calm to a violent species.

    If a “good” afterlife is a definite thing, and one doesn’t have to slaughter to get in, then the effort to commit murder to attain paradise is lessened. Secondly, a lot of psychological death anxiety, might be eased, if lots of people adapted your view.

    Regards,

    Mitch

  • Giulio Prisco

    Thanks Mitch.

    As you say, this is both an independent religion (not really “new” though, these ideas have surfaced many times in history) and an interpretative framework for established religions.

    The core idea – that WE will achieve ALL the promises of religion including resurrection by means of science and technology – isn’t explicitly affirmed by traditional religions, but isn’t entirely incompatible with traditional religions either, so traditional religions can be re-interpreted in this framework.

  • René Milan

    Why not pay more attention to origin and usage of these terms?

    Spirituality – for quite some years i felt that i could accept the term and even use it to describe myself, mainly because it tried to avoid the dogmaticism inherent in most religions. That ended over a decade ago when i started analysing it. Etymologically it derives from the latin spiritus meaning wind or breath. If we presume, as i tend to do, that it was easier for prehumans to perceive outside reality than inner bodily functions, it seems sensible that the meaning wind preceded breath, but who knows. The secondary meaning (as in “dominus vobiscum – et cum spiritu tuo”), i believe came about from the the fact that wind is not visible other than by its effects. So ‘wind’ assumed the additional meaning as ‘the invisible mover behind moving phenomena’, and there you have your holy ghost, and it seems to be based on incomplete perception, because in those times, and long thereafter, nobody understood the mechanisms driving weather. Additionally the term began to increasingly be used to indicate, but never precisely define, a quasireligious attitude that never takes a definite stand and which i find just as lazy and wishy-washy as the ‘thinking’ underlying the term ‘agnosticism’, which is basically saying: “don’t know and don’t care”.

    Religion – also latin meaning ‘rebinding’, which presupposes, and in praxis actually teaches, the loss of an original binding which has to be remedied. And here (another reason) is why i do not need or believe it: like most i was bound, by virtue of being born, into a time, a place, a community (of sorts), a family and a certain biological condition. As i never ‘lost’ these bindings, but over the years intentionally cut most of them and established new ones, i will not accept another’s assumption or assertion deviating from this knowledge. And here again we touch on the essence of transhumanism. As for usage, since more than half the planet’s population self identifies as adherents of abramic traditions, of course that is the way the term is most commonly used and understood, and i will radically distance myself from it. “Say ‘religion’ because it’s the word that everyone understands” ? Definitely not in the same way.

  • Giulio Prisco

    Rene’, this kind of reminds me of our periodic Facebook discussions about smoking.

    Some people like to smoke, and some people like religion. They don’t tell you to smoke, or to join a church and become a believer. They don’t come to your place to smoke and pray. They smoke and pray in their place. WFT is wrong with that? Live and let live.

    Re terminology, when you talk to someone who doesn’t understand your language (or who prefers to speak his language), you should try to speak his language, otherwise it’s a waste of time for both. As you say, more than half the planet’s population self identifies as adherents of abramic traditions (and more than 90% of the remaining half self identifies as adherents of other religious traditions). They don’t speak (or don’t want to speak) your language. So you cannot talk to them if you don’t speak their language.

  • René Milan

    Well, Giulio, i am not trying to speak to them and you know that, at least if you read my above response and previous writings on the subject. I speak to those transhumanists who i think are committing serious errors in reasoning, and i am going out of my way in meticulously arguing my point, yet none of them ever deals with the arguments i present, neither you, nor Mr. Cannon, the raelians or any other religionist transhumanist with whom i have ever engaged in discourse. So maybe you are right, those people, and i would hate to have to include you in this group given all the great and enlightening conversations we enjoyed, do speak a different language, and actually seem to live on a different planet. Which would confirm my argument about the incompatibility of religion and transhumanism in the saddest way imaginable. Can you not see that these so far futile attempts on my part to clarify this issue would be just as successful if you could make me understand as if i could make you understand, and we could find a synthesis ? That i am begging you to finally deal with my arguments, to give me some REASONs ?

    And since you now prefer to talk about language, why not actually respond directly to my previous post, that deals exclusively with language ? Not a word ?

    And do not assume that i have not been trying to understand. One of the first endeavours trying to bring ‘spirituality’ and transhumanism together was James’ ‘Trans Spirit’ yahoo group to which i subscribed early on, and which i still interact with, and the same goes for this group. And in even older days it was Michael who contributed greatly, as he still does, to the movement with his views on enlightenment techniques based on zen. Why my interest ? I explained that in my initial comment here, and in many other places previously. Quite recently i replied to a comment on the Rational Transhumanism fb group thus: “I see TH also as a potential method of continuing self emancipation, a point at which i can integrate it with other enlightenment technologies and transpersonal therapy concepts, and far from regarding TH itself as a religious concept, as many of its critics do, i do not see why a fully realized transhumanist would have a need for drawing comfort from religion.”

    Strangely you bring up that silly and really unimportant smoking debate again, and there too, you just do not listen to what i am saying. I find it unbelievable that after all i have said on that issue, and knowing, if you actually read my words, that it would be against my innermost conviction as a thelemite, whose main motto is “Do What Thou Wilt”, you still think that i am one of those (the government ? the new world order ? the freemasons ? the jews ? aliens ? – frankly i think that you are treading dangerously close to paranoid libertarian conspiracy theory addicts here) who want to ‘take away your rights’ to smoke, quite the contrary, and i have pointed out that i ultimately would fight for that right, which implies being prepared to die for it. But again you did not deal with what i actually said, only with what you project, and you keep applying the silly technique of subject switching. My whole point was only about my impression that you severely exaggerate the direness of smokers’ predicament, and i wonder why. And to talk about the “hard fought for right to smoke” borders on the hilarious. But as i said this issue in itself is of no interest to me, and i prefer to drop it, and i see now that it was a mistake to respond to your, in my view, slightly paranoid post.

    What i am interested in, and continue to be, is as your friend to understand you, and vice versa.

  • Giulio Prisco

    Rene’, I am trying to deal with your arguments, but I guess I should try to do better.

    You haven’t been the only one to voice these objections (there has been a vigorous discussion on the mailing lists). I paste some of my comments below:

    “Call this a religion if you want, otherwise call it something else. It’s open, and up to you. Whatever works.”

    “God(s): I am persuaded that there are extremely advanced forms of life in the universe, indistinguishable from Gods (even Richard Dawkins agrees). I am also persuaded that we (in an extended sense that includes future AIs, uploads and hybrids) will go to the stars and join the community of extremely advanced forms of life. Do we call extremely advanced forms of life “Gods?” Again, It’s open, and up to you. Whatever works.”

    If you prefer to consider these ideas without the analogies and parallels with religion, it’s totally up to you. I am not trying to convert you, or telling you what you should think (but please don’t tell me what I should think, I tend to over-react to that).

    Actually, I don’t want to “convert” anyone. I offer my ideas to others who are already walking on a close path, and invite them to walk together. Some of that prefer to call this path “religion,” others prefer to call it something else. To me, both choice are fine, and I don’t want to exclude anyone.

    Even the name of this website is deliberately open to multiple interpretations. You can read “Turing Church” as a church, or as a mathematical idea (Turing-Church Thesis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church%E2%80%93Turing_thesis) that points to digital life, mind uploading, cybernetic immortality, and the possibility of technological resurrection. If you are not comfortable with the “Church” interpretation, please don’t use it, it’s entirely up to you. But I don’t want to close the door to those who wish to use it.

  • Stephen Kagan

    In reading both of your responses I cannot help but think that the difference is predominantly one of cognitive styles.

    What I see in Renee’s perspective is an insistence on the details, the historical meaning of words, very grammatical. There is a kind of particularity and uncompromising insistence on doing what is right. On the other hand Giulio’s perspective is more inclusive, explicitly compassionate and flexible.Forgive me is I am polarizing too much, I am searching for a means of making sense of this.

    It reminds me of the different ways of translating poetry. Do you stick to the the closest translation of the words or to the intention of the poem as a whole?

    I for one do not see any incompatibility between transhumanism/posthumanism and spirituality and religion. and I am certain that the way to move forward is to be more inclusive of diverse views and manners of living and being. There are a great many people who value faith, congregational religion and their relationship with the mysterious and clothe that in familiar garments of religions. This is not a bad thing. It is a different way of perceiving and relating to the world. Myth and symbol have value and power though though people aren’t necessarily bound to the orthodox or conservative meaning of those images, ideas and rituals.

  • Giulio Prisco

    @Stephen re “It reminds me of the different ways of translating poetry. Do you stick to the the closest translation of the words or to the intention of the poem as a whole?”

    I like this analogy. I think what we are doing here is translating religion to a form suitable for our time and the times to come.

    I focus on “the intention of the poem [religion] as a whole” (what I call cosmology) and ignore “the closest translation of the words” (what I call geography and zoning norms) as unnecessary artifacts typical of the places and times of origin of most traditional religions.

  • René Milan

    In some ways i regret that this has turned out so voluminous. Read it if you have time and interest, if it will even be approved, or ignore it.

    Thanks for these responses, Giulio and Stephen. Again nobody has even attempted do deal with the issues i raised and there are now, even on this short thread, plenty of them. I find it very frustrating to go to great lengths to explain myself, hoping to understand and be actually corrected, not just contradicted or ignored by, others, to find that these efforts are apparently wasted. This especially in a forum intended, if i am not mistaken, to provide space for discussion. Nonetheless your comments are helpful and welcome.

    I welcome especially your line “I guess I should try to do better”. Maybe one day. Instead you offer me five more points that i could, and usually would, if at this point i did not think that this would only add to the time wasted already, deal with one by one. But i certainly will if and when you catch up and deal with the 20 (that is a guess likely to be close) that i already presented above.

    I encounter the phenomenon of people not dealing with individual issues but instead ‘resorting’ to making general statements and switching the subject on all general as well as dedicated internet forums. I have come to the conclusion that this behaviour, which is manifested by way over 90, possibly 99, % of participants (guesstimate), has been, to a degree intentionally, fostered and spread, and represents the current mental status of, even ‘educated’, society, which shows itself in activities as varied as spindoctoring, employing language in the service of ideology, imposing ever increasing ‘political correctness’ in mostly verbal expression, conducting ‘discussions’ with series of oneliners from ‘smart’ phones and through texting media, has in fact caused a, to some parties welcome but by many not even noticed, reduction in reasoning and analytical capacity even among intelligent people. Mind you, i am not referring to anybody here. I believe that part of this behaviour is due to the restrictions inherent in these media, and i am confident if we one day meet again ‘in the flesh’, Giulio, we will be able to resume the quality conversations which we (too rarely) enjoyed. (I can not predict how that will work, should the next time we meet be ‘in the metal’ or ‘in the ghost’.)

    I do not know if my observations above apply to you at all, Stephen, as we have only quite recently met. But as mentioned i do value the feedback that you have provided here. And i will, as usually, deal with it in detail, hoping, as usual, that if you disagree you will actually let me know with what in particular and why.

    “What I see in Renee’s perspective is an insistence on the details, the historical meaning of words, very grammatical” – an astute observation and i agree. (I am not female though.)

    “There is a kind of particularity and uncompromising insistence on doing what is right” – no. “Right” is a relative term, its meaning depending on probably hundreds of factors. What i am trying to do is what is useful in order to arrive at understanding and (dis)agreement, which is a precondition for moving on to the next issue. All three of us are transhumanists, and it is the essence of any ideological movement to evolve its central ideas, largely through discussion. But that is true even outside explicit ideology.

    “uncompromising insistence” – yes, i know, and i can easily attribute that, not exclusively, to having been born and raised mostly in germany, and it is clearly a common property of the ethnic german character. But while it can be, and was, for example in the systematic way in which the ‘final solution’ was, in germany largely ‘successfully’, applied to the ‘jewish problem’, have devastating effects when applied in the service of wrongheaded ideas, it is a valuable quality, and is essential for applying logic and reason in scientific contexts with the required rigour, and it accounts to a large degree for german successes in fields ranging from philosophy to engineering. One point worth mentioning in the context of this debate is their pioneering role in researching, understanding and translating eastern, in particular indian, important texts from their millennia old enlightenment cultures.

    Here is what a u.s.american singer had to say about the issue over 40 years ago:
    Mistakes are made because words are misunderstood.
    It’s all, all in how you talk.
    Walking over somebody, sounds like a strange thing to do, but it’s all, all, all, all, all in how you walk.
    Seems like it might be the right thing to say at the time
    and I know I’d probably say it again, if you gimme just a little taste, gimme just a little taste more wine.
    I’d be flying out, flying out and wise and old, old as the whole world,
    and I’d just turn around like a baby and I’d crawl, crawl right back inside…
    (http://goo.gl/ZwRQju)

    “It reminds me of the different ways of translating poetry. Do you stick to the the closest translation of the words or to the intention of the poem as a whole?” – very salient point indeed. I am no expert in poetry, and can enjoy, speak and even write poetry (the latter probably not very good) only when i am high as a kite. But i have engaged in DE->EN translation fairly extensively over the last five years, including some poetry (i remember translating the lyrics to a german heavy metal song, the results if which i was quite pleased with), and despite clearly preferring the ‘as a whole’ approach, i know that a ‘true’ (congruent) conversion can only be approached, never attained. This is confirmed in my daily dialogues with Orie (my wife) who has been and currently is doing JP->EN, and vice versa, translation, which is even more difficult because the cultures are much more distant than germanic ones are from each other or from romanic ones.

    “be more inclusive of diverse views and manners of living and being” – i differ here in that i do not think that i want to be inclusive in the sense of including them within the structures of transhumanism itself. But i think it is inherent in transhumanism to allow for, and even attempt to guarantee, choices that in their own essence contradict transhumanist ideas. I will go to extreme lengths with this. One of my favourite thought experiment is based on the figure of Hannibal Lector. I find it to be the transhumanist thing to do to grant him and likeminded individuals the space and freedom to follow their inclinations in choosing a lifestyle. This goes for fundamentalists, jihadists, luddites and many others as well. Of course we can not have them interfere with the lifestyles of those who do not share their views and values, and the solution which i have been working on for a few years here is ‘habitat separation’, which will become available only through perfection of VR technology, and, more importantly, through development of deep space transport technology. But there are those who choose to not share transhumanist ideas and lifestyles without interfering with those who do, such as the Amish, whom i admire for the audacity of their choice. I have always had great respect for refuseniks.

    “Myth and symbol have value and power” – i think you can see that i agree with this statement by my occult interests and activities.

    In closing i want to pick up the point of freedom v. oppression again, Giulio. As mentioned i have little interest in the smoking discussion. But it speaks to one of the greatest concerns of transhumanism as i understand it, the opposition to oppression in any form. Religion at least here in europe has largely lost the power to oppress the majority of people. Beginning with the renaissance and the reformation, who both have significantly contributed to the loss of power of the roman church, though the latter has introduced a host of new problems into the situation, and followed by the enlightenment, which has been instrumental in setting up and supporting the slow march of science toward dominance, and whose inheritance is safeguarded and developed by transhumanism, the old power structures have been chipped away and altered in the process. There are two manifestations of ‘religion’, exoteric and esoteric. Exoteric religion has always attempted, mostly successfully, to suppress esoteric ideas and movements. This is definitely true for the two monster ones, xtianity and islam, but the latter case is much more complex because of the noncentralised nature of islam, as opposed to western xtianity, which was basically designed and ‘maintained’ by committee. I currently do not know enough to talk about orthodox xtianity, but if they ever were a friend of the people it seems to have been a very two-faced one. Pagans were habitually assimilated (of course a bidirectional process) and, in the americas, often eliminated, and esoteric practitioners were like other ‘heretics’ suppressed and persecuted and had to go underground to survive. This was not the case in judaism though. And in eastern traditions, especially in south asia, the two existed largely side by side, offering knowledge in accordance with development of and demand by the population. For these reasons i would accept to be called a supporter of esoteric ideas, and supportive of (some in each case) groups as diverse as gnostics, quabalists, alchemists, rosicrucians, astrologers, magicians, ‘pagans’, wiccans, witchdoctors, shamans, sufis, tantricians (if you will forgive the neologism), and practitioners of zen, shingon and voudon among many others, as long as they do not band together for proselytisation. Wisdom waits for those who seek it.

    But exoteric religion is not currently the main enemy of transhumanism as presented in Zoltan’s book. Clearly possibly more formidable as an opponent is nationalism, a newly invented artefact which has taken on quasireligious properties and become de rigueur over the last two centuries, carving up virtually the whole planet. This is clearly shown in ‘the th wager’, but the same mistake is made by Jethro as that of transhumanists who want to become g-like, in that he calls Transhumania a ‘nation’. And of course both religion and politics have been and are largely controlled by plutocracy, which is in effect the real and most formidable opponent of transhumanism, something not thoroughly understood by Jethro.

    Here i need to mention a few points within my own history. I became a self declared member of the ‘underground’ at the age of 15 in ’64. Two years earlier the murder of Jack Kennedy, and the way it was handled, had awakened my interest in politics. I had become an avid reader of SF as a child and just could not fathom why anyone would want to kill a man who had promised to send people to the moon within a decade. I began studying and soon found that this primarily had to do with internal politics, that there is a continuous but superficial left-right struggle, behind which layers and layers of deception could be dug up. This prepared me for understanding and sharing RAW’s interest in conspiracies, and early on, in ’63, made me aware of the war going on in vietnam, information completely ignored an in effect suppressed in the german media, by mostly by reading the articles by Meinhof and others in the german periodical ‘Konkret’, reading the only then available, sent directly from Beijing (or Peking), maoist periodical, undertaking critical analyses of what the media reported about the soviet union and events in africa, asia and south america, and i soon discovered underground media such as ‘it’ (the international times) and OZ. Another rich source of information was provided by the lyrics of intelligent rock and folk musicians, who shared information and views on political and psychedelic issues, and another was underground comix.

    Various emancipation struggles occurred during those years and the currents all merged into the new one international underground. Realizing that we were surrounded by endless attempts at oppression by the system, we developed easy and strong solidarity with those involved in these struggles, u.s. blacks, women, gays, inmates (of total institutions), suppressed ethnic groups across the world, and ‘perpetrators of victimless crimes’, such as gays (again), prostitutes, political activists, and drug users, the latter two groups containing most of my friends and myself, many of whom did sometimes extensive and brutal jail time.

    Next several things happened. In ’67 the San Francisco scene was usurped by commercial interests, mainly the media, and the resulting influx of tourists led to the destruction of the scene and to the ‘burial of the last hippie’ in October. The next year brought the turning point: The murders of King in April and RFK two months later, the ever escalating war in vietnam which had become a daily event on color tv and affected more and more young u.s. men who were drafted, the convention in Chicago in August and the subsequent indictment of the Chicago 7, all contributed to splintering of the ‘one underground’ and its devolution into the less defined ‘counterculture’. My personal experiential turning point came during a mass demonstration in Hamburg, HQ of the Springer media empire (a german version of Hearst decades earlier and Murdoch decades later), whose papers for years had demonised Mr Dutschke, a smart and eloquent young student activist, which then resulted in a serious assassination attempt on April 11 by a fanatised dimwit from which he ultimately died. I was on the front line and could clearly see second line cops, behind the shielded first liners having their guns drawn. I decided then and there to quit that scene, understanding that physically fighting the system would result in failure, and that government was in the service of corporate interests.

    I concentrated on psychonautic, therapeutic and occult work thereafter, while living by the principles pioneered by the diggers and to a lesser degree by the provos. I was arrested three times in my life:

    1. in ’68 on my way to españa by french customs police who had taken a cache of 20 tabs of 250µg of pure LSD out of my pocket. I stole it back and ate it which rather pissed them off because now they had no evidence. They placed me, getting increasingly and rapidly high on 5mg of high quality acid, handcuffed behind my back on a chair, backwards, in the corner of the room, which for a little while i quite enjoyed, as the walls featured some most interesting wood pattern, but it did not take long before i became quite amused by their attempt to bind me while watching from above. Shortly after i left this planet and then this universe altogether. They released me after four hours after extracting DM500 from my comrades who then put me back in my VW van and on we went into france on our way to españa.

    2. in ’89 in Berkeley, for breaking and entering, which verily was a misunderstanding, but i could see why it looked that way. Then they found someone else’s little bottle with about 1cc of amyl nitrite in the space between the seat and the back part of the the back seat of my car (where i never sit). Someone had given me a bottle with 5cc seven years earlier which i used up only because i had it. They kept me locked up in jail overnight and when i saw the judge next morning they had already questioned the owner of the place i had tried to ‘break into’ who had verified my story, and they apparently had not found my fingerprints on the bottle. Nonetheless the judge ordered me to reappear on a certain date some four months later to which i responded that that was quite unlikely as i was about to drive across the country to relocate to Pittsburgh. He indicated that in that case i would incur further legal complications, and i left the next day and never heard about this again.

    3. in ’13 at Stansted by the airport police for ‘using foul language in public where children might hear it’. I had told some ryanair (who apparently teach their employees how to most effectively piss off their customers) ground personnel, who had given me the (physical) runaround instead of disseminating correct information as is her job, to “shut the fuck up” after she continued arguing with me, trying to justify and even blame me for her unacceptable behaviour after i called her on it. I was sick at the time and suffered from fairly heavy anaemia, so i did not took kindly to being made unnecessarily to walk up and down the the concourse carrying luggage. Five minutes later the police walked up to me and arrested me. I spent four hours in jail, was DNA’d and searched, but they did not find the 10g piece of hashish in my pocket because i took it out before they began and put it back in after they finished (clearly i am a good enough magician even without rehearsal). They kept me for four hours and released me after i accepted and signed a ‘caution’ (whatever that is).

    These stories are really more amusing than anything, even though there is clearly a disturbing trend here. In case 1. they held, for a glorious 20 seconds, some real evidence, though they did not know it. In case 2. one could give them the benefit of the doubt. But case 3. was really about nothing whatsoever. I did not know that there was a u.k. law against ‘foul language’ in public, a concept which i find to be constitutionally questionable, and i have no comment on ‘where children might hear it’. Holy shit. I did not hear or see anyone taking offence besides the one who had offended me.

    But all my life i have lived only by my own law, often exposing myself to the possibilities of long jail sentences and on occasion even the death penalty. Yet i have never victimised another, and apparently the lords of karma tasked me, as they always do, only with those lessons i actually needed at any given time. So maybe now you, Giulio, can understand why i react with a mixture of amusement, anger and sadness when you clumsily misidentify me as being on the side of your ‘oppressors’.

    And my intention was never to bore you with schoolmasterly history lessons about the sixties, or brag about my often amusing but unintentional stunts. I am a dinosaur now. I was there. I know exactly how my insights into the workings of the system evolved, not through academic studies but through personal experience. And the system has not changed, just improved. Read any old Zappa lyrics to verify this point. As indicated above Giulio, i think that at the bottom of your concern with infringement on your personal freedom lies an extremely serious and worsening problem, that i have just tried to illustrate, and that should be among every transhumanist’s foremost concerns. I am a dinosaur now, and i can see a comet closing in.

  • Renee,
    I have copied out all of your comments to read offline and think about. It has come to 14 pages in MS word!

    I think it might be helpful in considering your points to condense them. I will try to do that but it would be helpful if you could try that as well. The storm of your responses sometimes makes it difficult to pull the furniture out of the debris. Poor analogy I know but my post work hunger is pulling blood from my brain. Condensation and simplification might bring better results getting good detailed responses. There are some good points in your torrent that are worth considering and my own Jewish intellectual background likes to consider different points of view and my cognitive orientation likes balancing those ideas out with intuition and my various buddhist teachers drumbeat of compassion.

  • Transhuman Religion

    I was hoping not to have to consolidate my thoughts on this until I had more time but, well damn, here we are. Because of my workday I will only be able to respond in stages.

    1. The fact that there are currently transhumanists out there who identify a value in religion shows that these two human endeavors are ‘not’ incompatible. While they may be ideologically incompatible for those of us who do not have a need for or value religion, there are people for whom these are already ideologically compatible. Moving forward as a species I am certain that what we need is tolerance of diversity and not the ideological assertion that we must convert the ignorant. In this I will side with spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama.

    2. Are Transhumanism and Religion incompatible?
    As you have said Transhumanism is the inheritor of the Enlightenment tradition and concerned with growth and emancipation. Religion insists on conformity to the point of physical oppression and based on faith, not reason. Are these statements true?

    The first thing that I will question is whether it is appropriate to describe the various cultural manifestations generally labelled as Shamanism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Hinduism and so on as a singular thing and call them religion. This is a dubious claim just examining the diverse forms of Hinduism alone. Buddhism has the three main forms and they differ from culture to culture. Sam Harris and Reza Asian had an interesting conversation that touched on this issue as they argued over the origin of ethical problems. At this point I agree with Reza that the problems are not endemic to religion but to orthodoxy and dogmatism.
    http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=FLMRTwsJ0faKg4mW2AJ4ldJQ
    I am not convinced that it realistic to put my experiences with kundalini yoga in the same category as my experiences with going to conservative Jewish synagogues or even the Tibetan Buddhist Kalachakra mandala construction and following ceremony I witnessed in Dharamsala. For the sake of brevity lets shelve that and move on.

    3. Religion is Conservative and Transhumanism Progressive.
    There is I think some significant truth to this statement, but I am wary of abstract polarizations and consider them lazy conceptual models. I suspect that they originate in our ancestral flight-fight patterns, mythologized and mapped over other categories of experience and levels of conception. Trashumanism philosophically embraces technological innovations through orthotics, prosthetics and transfer of patterns of information across substrates. Where transhumanism on the other hand is conservative is in the adherence to reductive materialist explanations of natural phenomena. Scientific transhumanists especially are allergic and antagonistic to ideas of natural intelligence, teleology, panpsychism transpersonal experiences, morphgenetic fields, cosmism even as possible explanations. Further, the concept or model of the self in Transhumanism is a rational intelligence derived from subjective conscious experience that does not include unconscious or symbolic processes, transpersonal states, actualization or enlightenment.

    (More on the way)

  • Giulio Prisco

    @Rene’ re ” So maybe now you, Giulio, can understand why i react with a mixture of amusement, anger and sadness when you clumsily misidentify me as being on the side of your ‘oppressors’.”

    I do, and I am sorry I gave you that impression.

    Of course you are not on their side. But you seem at least somewhat uncertain and ambivalent (please correct me if I am wrong) toward two categories of people, to both of which I belong: believers and smokers ;-)

    Your life history shows that you are a champion of the right to do what you believe is good.

    But what about the right to do what you DON’T believe is good (like believing and smoking)?

    There are lifestyles and habits that I totally dislike, and sometimes I can’t help wishing that people stop choosing them. But then I try to remember that others’ choices are not my business, as long as they don’t harm anyone but themselves.

    Let’s make an extreme example: coprophagy (eating shit). Like most people I find that disgusting, but it’s their business not mine, and they don’t harm anyone else, so I wouldn’t oppose their right to eat shit – on the contrary I would actively support it if they were persecuted.

    Supporting the right of others to do what you like is easy. Supporting the right of others to do what you don’t like is difficult.

    “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” (Voltaire)

    • I once had a professor in an art class who said that art is like a bucket in which one can place anything, but that there are some things which have integrity on their own. Tai Chi wouldn’t need the additional label of Art despite its being an artful practice.

      May I suggest that transhumanism similarly has integrity enough without making it a (cosmic) religion? It can be a religious topic, certainly, but a focus on this seems an unnecessary complication to an already potent concept.

      (Forgive my bypassing the majority of points of fact, opinions, and counterarguments in this thread; I have followed & read the lively commentaries with great interest, glee, and delight over the last few days, checking back with regularity.)

    • @Guilio: Hey, again.

      “But then I try to remember that others’ choices are not my business, as long as they don’t harm anyone but themselves.”

      May I offer to the conversation the concept of one’s self-identity? Here, René’s vested interest in your endeavor is (may I deduce) a byproduct of his identification with transhumanist principles and goals. While second-hand smoke may physically affect only nearby individuals, attempting to redefine/re-evaluate the core principles and scope of a concept has implications that transcend conventional spatial considerations (especially given the nigh-omnipresent infrastructure of our modern communications systems). René’s arguments, as well as Stephen’s methodical counterarguments, provide insights and perspectives that cannot be dismissed via the NIYBY (not-in-your-back-yard) defense; meanwhile, in many countries healthcare costs partly derived from some’s smoking habits ultimately influence tax rates. The idea that one’s actions can realistically only harm oneself is an archaic over-simplification.

      Clearly, the governance of transhumanism is in question; “what is best for the cause?” is at the root of this discussion, and “Is transhumanism as religion an effective thrust?” is the specific issue at-hand.

      As individual creatures with a tentatively limited lifespan, we have a built-in desire for self-preservation. The “self” can persist through one’s DNA, one’s reputation, one’s legacy, one’s consciousness, etc. Here, transhumanists’ investments (of all kinds) in transhumanism are manifestations of that wish for self-preservation (no?). If transhumanism fails to deliver, then René’s, Stephen’s, my, and your investments are lost and damage is done. We all have a stake in how transhumanism is received & whether or not its principles receive the support necessary for our transcendence. I’ve thought a lot about lobsters-in-buckets this year.

      “Supporting the right of others to do what you like is easy. Supporting the right of others to do what you don’t like is difficult.”

      I would offer that your spinning this discussion to a question of its participants’ “supporting the right of others” or not is in poor form. The word I offer as a constructive tool for future discussion is ~effectiveness~. As a matter of personal preference, I tend to discount anything that claims “cosmic” attributes or implications (eg.- “Cosmic Chris”, “Cosmic Rebecca”, and “Cosmic Pizza” are some I encounter regularly). I find this to be a heavy-handed qualifier too often showcased in spacey/new age books at big book stores, most of which (albeit interesting at times) leave me with the sense of a foundation built of sand. (Similarly put, it’s quite difficult to take seriously any poet who uses the phrase “celestial bodies”.) Nonetheless, I greatly commend your want for reaching a larger audience through your endeavors, and I think that any true transhumanist commentator detracting in these forums is likely to be genuinely concerned most with the effectiveness of your approach while nevertheless respecting the core of your efforts.

      Sincere regards.

  • Giulio Prisco

    @Stephen re “3. Religion is Conservative and Transhumanism Progressive. – There is I think some significant truth to this statement…”

    I think you omitted an important qualifier (“sometimes”) and added a misleading one (“significant”).

    The core and defining principle of Transhumanism is that human enhancement via technology is both feasible and desirable. This can be adopted by any political ideology, and you can easily find examples of far-right, ultra-conservative, authoritarian, sociopath transhumanists.

    Similarly, religion can be conservative, but not necessarily so. Many people make this statement based on one and only one example of religion (the conservative, patriarchal, fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity), but (as you rightly say) this is hardly the only applicable example, or the most significant in this context.

  • Stephen Kagan

    Giulio,
    I totally agree with you and was getting to that. I was just was trying to deal with Renee’s arguments methodically but your Indiana Jones move has made the point…
    http://youtu.be/7YyBtMxZgQs

    Currently reading The Light of Other Days and Ben’s Cosmist Manifeso. Thanks!

  • René Milan

    Stephen, i shall respond in stages as well.

    “who identify a value in religion shows that these two human endeavors are ‘not’ incompatible” – certainly not in their minds, but by my reasoning. TH is based on reason and the whole point of my involvement in this debate is to decide if my reasoning is faulty, which nobody has yet shown me, or alternatively to get confirmation that they have abandoned reason, which likewise has never been forthcoming.

    “Moving forward as a [whatever]” – implies the valid point that reason, like everything, is subject to evolution, as is TH, which maybe not remain based on reason. But that is speculation, and i am concerned with the present.

    “whether it is appropriate to describe the various cultural manifestations generally labelled as Shamanism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Hinduism and so on as a singular thing and call them religion” – i never did, but that depends one one’s definition. I have pointed out that i refer to the term in the way it is understood by a majority of currently alive people. But besides myself hardly anyone involved in these debates ever bothers to present his definition.

    “Are these statements true?” – if not, you have not yet shown me how.

    “I am wary of abstract polarizations and consider them lazy conceptual models” – so am-do i. But history shows that both statements are correct, remembering which definition of religion i refer to here.

    “Trashumanism philosophically embraces technological innovations” – certainly it does, but these are transitory technologies being developed and made available now, while needed. Needed for what? Improvement of the (post)human condition, which is at the core of TH, and in current times obviously most easily undertaken by technological means. But for millennia the only viable way to improve the human condition was through ‘mental technology’, which is just as powerful as the physical, and in my view, and possibly yours, integral part of TH. But these traditions, often called esoteric ‘religions’, are far different from going to church or singing amazing grace.

    “Scientific transhumanists especially are allergic…” – certainly true, but just as with religionists, i currently have no intention to cease attempting to enlighten them. “Further, the concept or model…” – true for some transhumanists, possibly many, certainly not all. And this clearly is a shortcoming.

  • René Milan

    Giulio, thanks for beginning to understand where i am coming from.

    “toward two categories of people, to both of which I belong: believers and smokers ;-)” – if the emoticon indicates that you mean this in jest, fine. Else let me try again to clarify.

    Believers – we will have to present our definitions of the term before we can usefully discuss it. When it indicates habitual adherents to the rituals of exoteric religions i am indeed ambivalent, but not about their right to pursue what to them are valid ways of communicating with ‘higher powers’, attaining solace or finding strength. And neither am i ambivalent the still dominant aspect of exoteric religion that meddles with others’ lives, but downright critical, nay, condemnatory. But here we are only talking about the intersection of TH and ‘religion’, and my motivation is to make progress on what i, or you, or both, do not seem to understand about (in)compatibility of the two.

    Smokers – no ambivalence here whatsoever. The one question i have about it is what people get out of it worth taking the risk of damaging their health. But that is their issue, and i certainly am a ‘believer’ in the concept of, in religionist lingo, ‘sacrifice’ which in plain language just means giving up something good (desired) for something better (more desired). And none of this is part of the discussion between you and i. As pointed out repeatedly, all i took issue with is what i perceive to be a gross exaggeration of the direness of today’s smokers’ predicaments. An utterly unimportant issue in the big picture, but it is not easy for me, having known you for almost ten years, to resist trying to find out if you really believe that, and why.

    “you are a champion of the right to do what you believe is good” – not quite. Substitute “want to do” for “believe is good”. Good is not a clear term, different to a degree for any two people.

    ““I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” (Voltaire)” – i have repeatedly pointed out that i would fight (and that implies the possibility of dying in the process) your (anybody’s) right to smoke. And way beyond your example of coprophagy, which is just another ‘victimless’ activity (unless personhood is granted to shit), i have explained my willingness to accommodate even serial killers and dāʿish etc, as long as habitat separation can be maintained.

  • René Milan

    I read a sentence in your book last night Stephen, which i think encapsulates the possible key connection between transhumanism and ‘religion’: “When he had finally created a true Artificial Intelligence he secretly held the belief that he and his colleagues had simply created a container complex enough for a consciousness to inhabit, for a soul to be housed in.”

    Of course this raises the question of emanation (as described in QBL) or, in more general terms, involution.

    Unlike Daniel i do not hold this ‘belief’, but i consider it a plausible theory by virtue of its capacity to explain a number of observations for which no better explanations yet exist, and i would not be secretive about this position.

    Time will tell.