Eric Steinhart to keynote the 2016 Conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association

The date for the 2016 Conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association (MTA) has been announced. The conference will take place on Saturday, 9 April 2016, at the Salt Lake City Public Library. One of the two keynote speakers will be Eric Steinhart, professor in the Department of Philosophy at William Paterson University, and author of “Your Digital Afterlives: Computational Theories of Life after Death.” The other keynote speaker will be announced later.

The aim of this conference is to address the many issues and topics that lie at the intersection of technology and religion, and their impacts on society, and culture including art, music, entertainment, and on society in general.

The annual Conference of the MTA is the main gathering of religious and spiritually oriented transhumanists, and believers interested in transhumanist ideas, since 2012. Before launching the MTA Conferences, the MTA sponsored the 2010 Transhumanism and Spirituality conference and the 2009 Mormonism and Engineering conference. Like the MTA itself, the Conference is open to non-Mormons and every year so far there has been a non-Mormon keynote, starting with yours truly in 2012.

For non-Mormon transhumanists, the Conference and the related social programs are unique opportunities to become more familiar with a society built upon the most transhumanist religion. I have written about my own first experience in “Stranger in a strange Mormon neverland.”

I attended the MTA Conference and gave talks in 2012, 2013 (see also my article “Man will become like God, say Mormons and transhumanists in Salt Lake City” on KurzweilAI), and 2014, and I look forward to being there in 2016.

Eric’s book has received rave reviews. “Beautiful and inspiring and thought-provoking, and (I think) genius,” wrote MTA President Lincoln Cannon in a comment to Eric’s 2014 promotional article published in the IEET website.

In Eric’s own words, Your Digital Afterlives develops and defends several digitalist approaches to life after death, including both “hard” (brain scanning) and “soft” (personality capture) forms of mind uploading, and promotion to higher levels of simulation, and uses these approaches to life after death to build a comprehensive philosophical framework for the transhumanist vision.

Uploaded humans with software bodies will inhabit virtual worlds designed by natural Gods – God-like world-making engineers.

“Following Dawkins, Your Digital Afterlives argues for an evolutionary theology,” says Eric. “But divine evolution requires divine self-reproduction. Just as some organisms reproduce asexually, so gods reproduce asexually. Gods evolve by means of recursive self-improvement.”

“As gods evolve, they become more powerful, more intelligent, and more benevolent. Less perfect gods beget more perfect gods in a never-ending process. This is radical polytheism: every god surpasses itself in every possible way by making every possible better version of itself. As gods evolve, they begin to run universes. As these universes grow more complex, they contain increasingly complex things, like human lives.”

Evolving Gods will build evolving, better and better worlds. “If our universe is surpassed by every possible better version of itself, then your life will also be surpassed by every possible better version of itself,” says Eric.

“Better versions of your life inhabit better versions of our universe. After you die, you will live again.”

If you, like me, find Eric’s ideas intriguing, and if you can attend the MTA conference, I look forward to seeing you in Salt Lake City next April. If you wish to submit a paper for the conference, the deadline is February 1, 2016.

  • kt

    Did you ever buy the book, Giulio? I’m still waiting for a cheaper version, either secondary market or lower kindle price.

    • Giulio Prisco

      Not yet, I am also waiting for a cheaper version. In the meantime, Eric’s articles (see for example the IEET article linked in the text) and the material on his website are a good introduction to his ideas.

      • spud100

        I purchased the hardcover book and really enjoyed. Steinhart, in his latest paper dated October 22nd, seems to be a continuation of his Revision Theory of Resurrection. I just glanced through his downloaded paper, and did not read it in detail. I find zero comfort and joy, (as the Christmas Carol goes) in his Revision theory, because it is the life of an improved clone that gets created in another universe, but not the identity of the identical person. Memories? Nada? No memory, no identity, in my opinion, but Steinhart, I feel, would object to this view, because the person, literally, reborn, has your identity, but in an improved world, in which the person has an improved, body. etc.

        Fortunately, Steinhart did write about other options in “Digital Afterlives,” and these are Uploading, Teleportation, and my favorite, Promotion. Uploading and Teleportation are quite similar in principle. Promotion is literally taken from computer programming-coding, moving code (us) via “pipelines.” The Promotion concept is tied to the Simulated Universe principle, in which we would join our Creator or creators in an upper layer of the universe. This is like your Onion description, Guilio. This method sustains personal identity, as opposed to Revision Theory. I am guessing our Mormon friends might like this theory as the best. Steinhart is what the philosophers call naturalist philosophy, which means, like Darwin, Like Dawkins, like Conway, the universes evolve from very simple to complex, to onward and upward.

        • kt

          I agree with you spud. I get nada from the revision theory of resurrection. It almost strikes me as being another version of the type of thing Martin Gardner once referred to as ‘shabby pseudo-immortality’. I couldn’t care less if another version of me lives an improved life in another universe after I die, any more than I care about living on in this universe through my works or my children or whatnot. I would prefer the real deal. I would prefer to maintain my consciousness of identity, memories of this life, etc.

          • spud100

            Agreed, KT. Martin Gardner, some years ago did indeed come up with a conjecture regarding immortality (Gardner did describe himself as God Fiedist or loyalist) in the works of String Theory. Gardner reasoned, “what is behind matter is energy and what is behind energy is String Theory, and what is behind String theory are numbers. Taking this into account I think that if a number set could be thought of once, it could be though of again.” Now this statement of Gardners’ also leaves me cold as one must have a thinker to think the pattern back into existence.

            Steinhart’s strength is that before he was a philosopher, he was a software engineer. Steinhart likes to pursue a half dozen paths to possible immortality, though he fav still seems to be Revision. Revision dissatisfies, because there is no true continuity, as least as its presented to me. Steinhart is influenced by Buddhism, and the letting go of self, which causes suffering. I don’t disagree but now think that letting go of self is also letting go of truth. If truths or data are useful to preserve, then discontinuity doesn’t help matters any, besides being discouraging for most people.

            Steinharts’ Teleportation, and Uploading to better and improved environments, that Steinhart terms terrariums, seems to be two immensely, appealing paths to work on. More naturalistic is Steinhart’s Promotion Theory in which evolution plus advanced minds Promote the minds or codes of people, places, and things, to the environment where the creator or creators dwell, considering the universe to be simulation, or some sort of computation (statistical mechanics?). This, could be the most scientifically based, and the most supportive of Cosmism.

          • Giulio Prisco

            @spud100 re “one must have a thinker to think the pattern back into existence.”

            One most have an iPhone or iPad and a password to bring your Facebook Messenger iOS app back into existence, but it doesn’t have to be the same device that you used last time. Any iPhone or iPad will do, because “your Facebook Messenger iOS app” is the pattern, not a specific device.

            If Identity is defined by the pattern, any thinker able to think the same pattern will do.

          • spud100

            Aha! Gulio. God is an IPAD, I knew it! The Thinker would be the Observer, as your fellow physicist, Leonard Susskind, ponted out in his paper, The Census Taker’s Hat. Pattern Identity is something yourself, Tipler, Moravec, and Schmidhuber, all agree on. If the resurrected person, even though they disbelieve they they are the Risen person (risen is used by Steinhart) then, that future person is the same fellow as before death. Eventually, the Risen disbeliving person, will meet up with his fellow deceased colleagues, and family, and get on with things, under strange, new, circumstances.

          • Giulio Prisco

            @spud100 – in the analogy the iPad is not God. The iPad is just yet another robotic body. God is, if you want, the high-level meta operating system and cloud storage service that permits running the FM app on the iPad with continuity from the last instance

          • spud100

            Great analogy Guilio, and one with which Steinhart would likely agree. In fact, Steinhart does appear to endore each Universe being an actual computer-however that would work out? He employs Conway’s Game of Life to have each Universe, or God, propagating ever better, ever smarter, from a very, simple system. There is a physicist at Princeton, also named Steinhart, who along with a colleague named, Turok, who have proposed endless expansions and contractions, all from the same cosmos. Breathe in, collapse-heat death, and breathe out-Big Bang. I don’t know if you were familiar with their work?

            I like your operating system thesis, as being God, and now wonder if we can contact this fellow, this universe, this expansion? To speak with, we must know someone is there in the first place, and…..?

          • Giulio Prisco

            @spud100 – thanks, I told Eric of this discussion and hope that he will comment here to clarify all these points.

            Re contacting God, I deliberately chose the analogy of an operating system and data cloud to include Deist, impersonal Gods that wouldn’t communicate with us. Yet, you never know… the OS could spawn app-like instances to interact with apps like us.

          • spud100

            Ha! Dr. Prisco, that would be great if Steinhart would reply here on Turing Church, and correct any misunderstandings here. On the ancient Extropian mailing list, back in the 90’s, I once joked with Eliazur Yudkowsky, on communng with the universe. He replied, “First attack the root directory of the universe..” It’s funny, and I should have said, “where’s the keyboard?”

            Your app comment is ‘apt’ and reminds me of the old British rock group (Depeche Mode) singing, “I want my own, personal, Jesus, someone who’s there, someone who cares…reach out and touch faith!” Now that would be an apt,app, indeed, or, perhaps, an “Avatar??” Please write your book.


          • Giulio Prisco

            @disqus_om8ImUfhbN:disqus re “I couldn’t care less if another version of me lives…”

            But similarly I could say “I couldn’t care less if another version of me wakes up tomorrow thinking that he is me and continue to live my life.” Yet we all accept that we are essentially the same person one day after another.

            Perhaps one should think of himself as a new person every day. That would make it easier to accept digital immortality, and offer many other mental benefits as well (today is another day and you is another you, so you can do today what you couldn’t do yesterday).

            The thing is, the “other version” of you WILL maintain your consciousness of identity, memories of this life, etc.). What more do you want?

          • kt

            I’m only speaking about Steinhart’s RToR. Some of Steinhart’s ideas that Spud talked about are consistent with what I would consider to be an afterlife, but AFAICT the RToR is not.

            In the RToR there is no continuity of consciousness, there is no preservation of memory, etc. Those other versions of me would not remember being *me*. They would not remember me dying in this world, for example. They are just other versions of me living slightly better versions of my life in slightly better universes on to infinity.

            If I had buddhist tendencies perhaps I would appreciate the RToR more. But I don’t, and so I don’t. I get about as much comfort from the RToR as I do from the thought that I will live on after my death in the memories of my loved ones.

          • Giulio Prisco

            In the RToR there is some degree of continuity of consciousness and preservation of memory.

            “An improved version of your life is a copy of your life that is changed in positive ways – it is revised…”

            For example, a very unpleasant memory could be erased.

            Of course if too much is erased we cease to be the same person and become someone else, but I guess you are still essentially you after some moderate revisions. I would certainly like to entirely forget some unpleasant things.

          • kt

            I don’t see the type of continuity that matters to me, the continuity of my 1P. If I go out for a walk and fall off a cliff I would hope for an afterlife while watching the ground get closer and closer. I would hope that when I hit bottom I would “wake up” in an afterlife of some sort, still me, remembering my life and the fact that I fell off a cliff and died.

            I would get zero consolation from the thought that another version of me will live a slightly better life in a slightly better universe, going out for a walk but this time avoiding the cliff.

          • spud100

            KT, I am with you, and the lawyer-philosopher guy on that interview show that has appeared on the US PBS TV, Closer to the Truth, advised that not having a continuity of “a first person point of view made him want to go home and have a beer. Steinhart chuckled and repeated the Buddhist mantra about holding on causing suffering, which is true, but inhibits true learning. A more perfect life without remembering mistakes, successes, and identity, simply throws useful data away. Nobody benefits. To this end I will send Steinhart an email about his philosophy.



          • Giulio Prisco

            @kt – I would like some minor revisions, but I would be happy enough with no revision at all. But I am a relatively privileged person in a privileged part of the world, and apart from minor disappointments I have always had a good life. But the life of many people on the planet is a nightmare – war, hunger, loved ones murdered and all that. I guess if I were one of them I would want many things changed.

          • kt

            Just curious, Giulio, but if you were one of them then which would you prefer?

            A) after your death you live your life over again with no memory of the previous life, an improved life in an improved universe, a little less war, a little less hunger, fewer loved ones murdered, etc. And after that version is dead, a new version lives again, with even more improvements. And onward….

            B) after your death, you find yourself in an afterlife, a different reality, improved and somehow better, but with memories of your wretched beginnings in this cruel reality, and, best of all, experiencing a happy reunion with all your murdered loved ones

            Personally I’d pick B. As far as I can tell, option A describes the RToR.

          • Giulio Prisco

            @kt – If RToR really means “with no memory of the previous life,” I would pick B like you. If it means “with most but not necessarily all memories of the previous life,” I would at least consider A.

            My impression is that Eric means that only some memories are revised from one instance to another.

            I asked Eric to comment here to clarify.