Originally titled: “Who’s Your Daddy Now ?”
All magical pantheons have become aspects of ourselves.
We, like the Sun, do not die.
Death, like night, is an illusion.
Life is now seen as a process of continual growth
and humanity is developing
a consciousness of the continuity of existence
that will eventually dissolve the sting of death.
Lon Milo DuQuette 1997
I remember a time, as i should since it was not very long ago, when in my perception discussions of religion among transhumanists took place mostly in the context of dealing with the criticism that transhumanism itself constitutes a new religion. Imagine that: declared rationalists defending themselves against the injunction by other rationalists of being irrational. Good olde days.
Even more recently, vexed by the then glacial progress in the spread of TH ideas, someone realized that there is an untapped reservoir of at least nominally religious people of over 80% of the world population out there, and if…, well if only…, frankly i do not know what the exact content of that particular vision was, or if it was just another reflexive marketing impulse of the kind that drives so many poor business decisions these days, but it was decided to start a ‘dialogue’ with these people, presumably to render them receptive to TH concepts and policies.
Surveying the state of TH now from my limited internet fora based perspective i conclude that this was a strategically disastrous decision. In the following i shall attempt to elucidate my reasons for this view. But in order to properly frame the debate, if there be a public one, else just for the sake of the one taking place in my head, some housekeeping tasks must be performed.
Years ago i resolved to purge my mind of redundancy at least in written communication. The first to go were silly phrases indicating that what i write is actually what i think. So why am i now breaking my own rule to point out what should be obvious ? Because to too many it is not, which results in much greater redundancy as they respond to what they misperceive as me making objective statements, or postulations about what they should think. Deviations from this default such as citations of others’ opinions or assuming devil’s, or angel’s, advocacy will be made explicit.
As web based texts rarely accommodate page footers i shall insert inline and within brackets what otherwise would be footnotes.
A pervasive problem in these debates is the lack of consensual or even just stated definitions which tends to render presented ideas unintelligible andor open to a multitude of debatants’ often contradictory (mis)interpretations, and the ensuing discussions futile. I shall therefore start by outlining and elaborating my ideas on transhumanism as well as religion and some related terms, before presenting my arguments for the incompatibility of the two concepts.
This is my bare bones definition and a more comprehensive picture should emerge from the entirety of this article.
Transhumanism consists in the awareness of the fact that humanity is in the process of taking conscious control of the engines of evolution (currently genetics and memetics), and the attempt to direct this process toward desirable outcomes. To determine the desirability of possible outcomes is the purpose of transhumanist debate, and effecting those recognised as desirable is the purpose of transhumanist activity. A secondary concern is recognition of and engagement with nonhuman sentiency and intelligence. A transhumanist is a person engaged in these activities with the intention of furthering this process.
A transhumanist is not an enhanced human, and there is no such thing as a transhuman, as we are all, willy or nilly, in transition. [Yes there will be posthumans but the distinctions and categorizations will be arbitrary because speciation will no longer be the only game in town.]
Technology is not central to transhumanism in particular, but a defining property of humanity in general.
I had to learn to use two separate definitions within different contexts.
1 – Private: under the assumption that historically those who first introduce new terms do this for a more or less good reason [among neologisms eugenics is an interesting case as it is generally assumed to have been corrupted, but the term already implies a return to some legendary and imaginary state of purity – prefix ‘eu’ – and while i support the idea of genetic improvement i propose the term ‘progenics’], i usually look at the etymology to decide if and how i want to use a term, regardless of its meaning’s deterioration through sloppy usage over time. By this procedure i arrive at the concept of ‘rebinding’.
The binding part refers to a continuous activity with the objectives of finding, defining, maintaining and developing a viable position within a given or chosen environment. In tree and cave dwelling days this appears to have been largely automatic. [Interesting exceptions were who throughout history have been called shamans, psychotics, mutants, geniuses; people who are not inclined to take things at face value, prototypical scientists.] Whatever was needed for survival was provided by the immediate group and learned and practised by default. None of this constituted religion but represented primitive yet partially successful attempts at science. These attempts were directed at the whole spectrum of human experiences which can be simplistically categorized thus:
- Those which can be easily controlled – by using sticks and stones as tools, taking a flame from a fire to the cave, learning to create and use sparks.
- Farther from home there are those that can be partially controlled – like hunt and warfare.
- And many cannot be controlled at all, like weather, seasons, climate and seismic events.
For the primitive mind, which is what we still have today but with more access to undisputed information (science), it is hard to discern which trial and error interventions are actually effective. A new spear design will help your hunt, but if you pick the wrong time to test it the effect may be lost, or vice versa (false positive). If you dance for rain long enough there is a good chance of raining, but when it does was it because of your dance ? To give powers names must be the first step in trying to control them. The power later called Vulcan was not a mythical being to a 10,000BC resident of Napoli but a scientific fact. But nobody knows if offering a sacrifice will keep a volcano from erupting; however in the absence of understanding its mechanics it is a fair assumption that it may, apparently confirmed by the passing of the days without eruptions. In preliteral cultures anything occurring outside a temporal and local range accessible within one’s lifespan tends toward mythification. But none of this amounts to what we now consider to be religion. That is just a misinterpretation by ‘modern’ anthropologists who see indications of ceremonial behaviour and wrongly label it ‘religious’, not understanding that ceremonial activity merely serves efficiency and is found in today’s bureaucratic, business, research and manufacturing processes among others, and who have no concept of the distinction between primitive science and that which i shall deal with in the following.
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm
Jim Morrison 1970
About 10 millennia ago the introduction of agriculture and the ensuing concentration of people in cities and division of labour brought on their separation by skills. Alienation and existentialism were born (but remained infants for a long while). Suddenly it was not (as) obvious who you were or what you might want, and many people found (and still find) themselves unable to meet the new mental challenges choice presents. At the same time clever operators realized that in a political environment great power can be amassed by exploiting those people’s insecurities and gullibility. Thus and only then religion was born. The ‘re’ prefix demonstrates that it implies the quest for something that was lost, the reestablishment of the prototypical ‘binding’, which of course is futile under changed conditions. It can only be accomplished in the realm of fantasy.
Interestingly the term ‘yoga’ has a similar semantic value; meaning ‘yoke’ it also signifies a binding process, that i interpret as referring to the interface between force and form, as well as that between inside and outside (i and not-i). This binding can be manipulated by the skilled practitioner to attain desired results, and that is the significance of my personal definition of (re)ligion. [Because of the deterioration of the meaning of the term yoga over the past half century that now to many indicates something akin to jazzercise, i am considering to actually call it ‘ligion’.]
2 – Public: as only few will share this view i do not use that definition in public discourse. But here too i must clarify a particular usage: i apply the term only to the phenomenon as a whole, not to any particular faith, tradition, language or culture based groups, which i prefer to call cults. I am not using the term in a pejorative way (after all it signifies building, developing, tending to), and that usage has been established by the larger groups to claim their superiority without having to explain or demonstrate it. But all of these groups start as cults, and remain such regardless of their eventual size. It is like some people claiming that (too large to fail) banks are not really businesses, which of course they are, if particularly dodgy ones, but institutions.
So how can we determine which cults must be considered religious ? In the introduction to his book “The Praxis” Dirk Bruere writes [numbering by me for easier reference]:
“Simply put, a religion needs to satisfy as many of these conditions as possible:
01 – It must provide a doctrine
02 – It must have canonical texts that expound upon that doctrine
03 – It must offer an ethical framework
04 – It must offer an explanation of the world around us and the world within
05 – It must offer hope and comfort in adversity
06 – It must offer community, fellowship, mutual support and a better way to live
07 – It must empower the individual
08 – It must offer a mission in life beyond the mundane
09 – It must offer a vision of a life beyond this one
10 – It must offer transcendence”
I disagree with the ‘must’, but Dirk himself has qualified this by saying “as many…as possible”; and this seems to be a quite comprehensive list of properties. I have to question and qualify some of them however:
03 – Offer yes, but not necessarily abide by.
06 – ‘Better’ must be put in perspective – better than before, or better than possible any other way ?
07 – This, like the previous item, is very relative. The normal deal goes somewhat like this: you surrender part of your freedom to us, in return we will ensure your happiness or whatever it is you are looking for. Besides the fact that this deal is not necessarily kept (conmen are everywhere), the resulting state is not what i call empowerment. (For the record, my definition of empowerment is attainment of a state of being that enables one to independently define what it is one wants to be and do, and to realize that vision.)
08 – It is debatable if there is anything “beyond the mundane”, and what that may be (definition needed).
Largely this collection of properties encircles the exoteric meaning of religion quite well, but one, maybe the most essential, ingredient is surprisingly missing. [I do not know if Dirk views it as so essential as to be implied, but either way in a proper definition it must be made explicit and itself defined.] I am talking of ‘faith’.
Faith is often understood as belief in something for which one has no evidence. That is a necessary but not sufficient condition. In addition a conscious (one should hope) decision is required to create a mental space that is impervious to reason, and to assign this space a ‘higher’ or greater validity than the realm of reason [this can be included in, even implied by, doctrine, which may be the reason for Dirk’s omission]. Secular critics of religion tend to make the mistake of trying to dismantle religious thought through rational argument. But as Gregory House famously said: “If you could reason with religious people there would be no religious people.” Yet this mistake keeps being made in spite of the fact that ‘religious people’ often respond by explicitly expressing the de facto unassailability of their faith by reason. These are two different and separate mental domains.
A distinction must be made between faith and trust. The above quoted insufficient condition of faith is sufficient for trust. Trusting not to lose one’s balance while walking, or not to be swallowed up by the ground or carried away by wind, or not to be betrayed by one’s partner, in spite of the fact that all these things do occur, constitutes not only belief in the absence of evidence but in the presence of evidence to the contrary. However we all do it, and on a higher level of abstraction it is the perfectly rational thing to do, the alternative being paralysis. Hence the conflict between the rational and the extra-rational inherent in faith does not apply to trust.
There are several other terms that in many people’s minds sit at the interface (i prefer the term fault line here) between religion and transhumanism and need clarification because of their central role in this debate.
Transhumanism, being based on science, engineering and rational thought, has no use for that extra-rational mental space created by religion to ensure its own survival. So where does that leave god(s) ? Exactly nowhere. Inasmuch as gods are seen as impersonations of natural and mental forces, they will continue to have a legitimate place, even though i shall advocate using terms developed by science that describe the same phenomena, in order to reduce the potential for confusion. However when working with people not trained in scientific thought, it can be effective to use the traditional terms, be they gods, nature spirits, familiars, angels, demons, qliphothic or even cthulhic forces – some Jungians and other therapists, as well as some schools of initiation, are doing excellent work while applying this language, which, presumably because of its age and low resolution, for many resonates much stronger with the energy of the object referred to than the new and often highly specialized scientific terms. When it comes to the upper echelons, the supreme commanders and almighties, only brahma stands out as a sophisticated concept. Its name represents a force outside of at least this universe, which it keeps recycling by breathing in and out, not a starring actor in the divine drama. Shiva with his blinking eye partakes of the same quality, but, with his attendant Shakti, on a lower level of abstraction, like yin and yang in relation to the dao. By contrast the abrahamic god, a minor mountain spirit and usurping thug, one might say the Stalin of the gods, is merely the impersonation of children’s nightmares.
Some transhumanists claim to want to become godlike. Seeing how many usages on how many levels exist for ‘god’, this is a nonsensical and unnecessary term. Increasing our own powers is what humans and prehumans have done for billions of years, but where is the dividing line between humans and ‘gods’ ? What properties exactly will make me godlike ? And why use an undefined and fantastic concept as an instrument to map one’s aspirations ? All that is needed is to set one’s goals in accordance with one’s inclinations (or needs) and skills.
Heaven and its allegedly non religious counterpart utopia are cul-de-sacs or, less elegantly but more precisely, dead ends. The abrahamic heaven is presented as an end state, as David Byrne sang “a place where nothing ever happens”, while utopia implies perfection. Etymologically ‘perfect’ signifies that which is (all the way) done, finished, and logically it demands arresting evolution in order not risk losing this perfection once attained. And the tiplerian omega point does this by expanding subjective time into foreverness of sorts. Transhumanism is concerned with development, change, evolution, learning to gain greater control of these processes, and static concepts like those are incompatible. The same is true for the related concept of immortality which is a property accompanying at least two of the three. Utopia does not even have a generally agreed definition, but logically it must require immortality as well. Longevity is one of the most uncontroversial transhumanist concerns, but how the meme immortality, which contradicts physics as we know it, could have invaded TH discourse is inexplicable, unless it rode in on the coattails of those static concepts, or just represents sloppy language use which undermines the foundations of our mental constructs.
Another term seen by many transhumanists as central to their ideology is ‘the singularity’. Based on observable exponential increases of price-performance indeces of computational hardware is the reasonable assumption that a point will be reached in the not too distant future when the changes effected by this development will become unpredictable. But, seduced by that pretty hyperbolic curve suggesting the exponential increase in ‘intelligence’ on its ride toward infinity at ever accelerating speed, and not taking into consideration conditions (cosmic ‘constants’) changing over time and space, or possible encounters with different theoretical principles on which alternative, and superior, manifestations of intelligence may be based, many singularitarians take the shortcut conclusion that intelligence (the kind we know of) will just continue to spread throughout the universe at ever increasing speed, transforming it in the process, like some smart Ice Nine, all the way up (or down) to the omega point where we will then reap the benefits in disneyland eternal. No wonder that religiously inclined ‘transhumanists’ compare it to a (user)friendly apocalypse or rapture without tears. The term superintelligence has come to dominate the debate which is unfortunate because it is meaningless. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor, so while we might want to assign a super title to our makers if we come face to face with them, in ‘Sirens of Titan’ they turn out to be no more than galactic Triple A engineers in the service of Salo the stranded tourist. Those of us who accept the probability of a singularity must take care to define it clearly in order to prevent it from being used as a Trojan horse carrying assortments of religious silliness in its belly.
The idea that our reality is actually a simulation, while not as central to TH as the singularity, can be, and is, also used as an inroad for religious thinking, with control of the gates fought over by those who want to invade, pointing to high probabilities, and the defenders, declaring them to be zero, both on ‘philosophical’ grounds. Apparently there are people (Beane, Gates, Terrile) working on finding evidence which however still is out of reach, and Bostrom has never presented certainties, only probabilities. Given this situation i hope there are others like me, who view the idea as currently no more than an entertaining mindscrew of no further consequence. [It is interesting to note that an experience can be had that seems to subjectively confirm the simulation interpretation by conveying the impression of a reality breakdown similar to that implied in the header of the tv show ‘Outer Limits’ (‘do not attempt to adjust your set’), and that can be fairly reliably achieved by ingesting at least .001% of body weight of dextromethorphan (not recommended without guidance).] Furthermore if evidence is produced this will not validate religious ideas, as the discovery of living in a simulation would increase the probability of the simulators also living in one, and theirs as well etc. Instead of gods we would find ever more sophisticated ninja turtles all the way up (or better out). No religious doctrine that i am aware of would accommodate such a model (but some initiatory schools do). Again much of the confusion is due to the lack of coherent terminology and the prevalence of faulty assumptions about the relation between religion and simulation, but just as with the singularity, there is nothing inherently connecting the two.
Another term that has risen to prominence among some transhumanists in recent years is ‘spirituality’. Worse than ‘superintelligence’ this is not undefined in one dimension but nonsensical in several. ‘Spirit’ meaning wind and breath naturally appeared to the old ones as suitable to denote a hidden actor behind observable phenomena. Watching a storm one can see objects move, but what moves them remains transparent. The spirit principle can also be applied to people in the sense of presupposing a spirit, or soul, to be the driver behind their physical and behavioural manifestations. That opens the floodgates to allow for the spirits of the ancestors (some of whom sort of show up in séances), nature spirits, and exalted ones that by shapeshifting into doves and untraceably impregnate virgins can earn titles like ‘holy’. The old ones did not know that people are mostly moved by (then) invisible processes inside their nervous and muscular systems, and more basically, that not all physical processes are detectable by human vision andor other perceptual systems. So does that mean that by calling myself a person inclined toward spirituality i declare belief in spirits ? In my perception the term is often used as code for: ‘well, i am not a religious person, but something just has got to be going on up there’, which of course constitutes an example of classic weaselling (with apologies to my little furry friends). If transhumanists mean to indicate their interest in mind altering technologies they should use a reference to ‘psychology’. While named after ‘psyche’ (‘wind’, the greek goddess of the soul or spirit (surprise), at least, unlike spirituality, spiritualism or spiritology, it denotes an established academic field of research; and it does not invite the invasion by spirit weasels and other new agers.
Finally some concepts of atheism must be considered. Recently i came across a brief article on Turingchurch pointing out that Dawkins stated that he can not disprove the existence of god. Why would he claim otherwise ? Being like i a declared atheist, i understand that his atheism is based on the dominance of the scientific method, and in claiming to be able to disprove god(s) he would destroy the basis of his atheism itself. There are lots of serious and idiotic definitions of atheism out there. A self described ‘christian atheist’ named Altizer proclaimed: “every man today who is open to experience knows that God is absent, but only the Christian knows that God is dead” – oh boy, yes we know it does not take belief in god to be self centered. It is really rather simple: an atheist does not believe in the existence of divine beings unless positive evidence is presented, which has not yet happened [discounting cases where god is defined as spacetime, gravity or the universe etc]. The term ‘agnosticism’ is often used by theists to promote the inane position that (bad) atheists just claim that there is no god, while the (not quite so bad) agnostics at least say that they do not know. This contradicts my given definition of atheism and ignores the fact that in reality most agnostics are simply people who can not be bothered to think about the issue. There are some atheists that reject the term because of an understandable dislike of being identified in terms of what they are not. Rationally being not a theist should be the default in no need for a particular designation, like people who do not kill are not called a-killers. However in this case, as a testimony to how far we still have to go, the numbers are reversed; we are a minority and thus special, and a label comes in handy and i have not come across a better one.
“Some people go to the left, some people go to the right, but assholes go everywhere.” – Giulio Prisco.
Although i disagree with my friend on religious issues, this one is indisputable. Assholes here is code for people at least lacking in capacity for rational thinking andor in effort to apply it.
“I kind of like religious debates, just hearing what other people believe is interesting and then crushing their beliefs with facts is fun.” – Dzhokar Tsarnaev, allegedly a proud muslim.
“I think its [sic] telling with what fury and indignation the world reacts when their pet theories are challenged with the confidence and supernatural faith of Catholics convicted of their certainties.” – Johnny Proctor, u.s. soldier.
With these people having, unfortunately without realising it, self disqualified from rational debate, only two groups are left to consider. Both have mastered the art of rational thought sufficiently to understand there is currently no alternative principle for discourse that aims at effective problem solving [which does not mean that ‘irrational’ methods, such as brainstorming or therapeutic methods, can not be used in that pursuit]. But while some base their conduct completely on that principle, others create these extra-rational mental spaces i described above, that i shall tentatively call xrats for brevity. When used properly, this compartmentalization can be a very useful skill. People use it for intra-mental communication with deceased loved and admired ones (beats relying on a medium), for, more playfully but no less importantly, shared fantasies, and for artistic endeavours among many others. I suggest most people employ xrats in more or less serious ways.
The objective of science, as well as transhumanism, is to develop and apply models for change (mostly) communally that, while derived from a finely tuned combination of objectified observation and more or less individual vision, stay as close to mutually agreed concepts of reality as possible, which is why scientists, and transhumanists, while perfectly entitled to maintain, develop and enjoy their xrats, must keep them out of public discourse. Once the borderlines between the generally agreed upon principles of reason and those of personal or shared xrats are perforated, the discourse may become pretty, nasty, dreamlike, surrealistic, anything but useful to the pursuit of the above defined objectives. Transhumanists must be pragmatic enough, and muster the talent, to develop and apply non rational techniques such as art, music, and psychological skills like rhetoric and propaganda, in the service of their policies. But they must keep nonsense, however high minded it may be, out of their debates. Here is an illustration: my friend quoted above recently stated, if memory serves, within a debate about mormons` claim to transhumanist credentials by declaring that humans must become more ‘godlike’, that he reserves the right to believe in the tooth fairy, a right that i fully support. I do not know if he actually does believe in the tooth fairy, but i dare say we will never see him declaring that humans must become more tooth-fairy-like.
And this is the first reason for my postulation that religion and transhumanism are incompatible: allowing irrational considerations into transhumanist discourse has the potential to destroy its intellectual foundations.
There are two additional derivative arguments to be made in support of my initially expressed view that engaging in a dialogue with religion was a wrong decision. As i stated elsewhere on the subject: “openings go two ways, and we are dealing with extremely experienced operators”. A mormon ‘transhumanist’ is still a mormon, and thus by mixing the two infuses the contents of what should remain confined to his xrats into TH thought. I am not in a position to judge if this is done according to agenda or out of ignorance, but it should not be done at all, and yet (some) transhumanists sent out the invitations. I recommend abstaining from trying to play their game, we are neither as good at it nor should we be interested.
The other one concerns the divisive nature of religious thinking which through its unreasonable claims affects even people who want no part of it, and it has exacerbated the divisions within TH. The undermining of rational foundations described above represents to many transhumanists like me the crossing of a nonnegotiable line. I see three possible responses:
- Acceptance of the fact that the TH concept has become corrupted and subsequent dissociation.
- Acceptance of the fragmentation of TH and creating, joining, or identifying with a TH subgroup.
- Reclaiming the rational foundations of TH in an attempt to save or restore its message of reason.
For now i have chosen the latter response, but i anticipate deciding in the near future if that remains a viable approach. In any case it seems clear that far from helping the TH cause, opening to religions has severely damaged it.
Before i can get to the essence of the second reason i must present my view of the historic significance of transhumanism.
One might hold that the earliest transhumanist endeavour currently on record was the quest of Gilgamesh for immortality. However despite superficial similarities there are profound differences between his story and our current concerns. Disregarding the question if the gods from whom he claimed descendency in 2/3 proportion existed just in myth and fantasy or actually populated the middle east in his days (even though i admit to finding the latter option more plausible), it appears that he claimed a right to immortality that much to his chagrin was denied to bastards like him by the divine establishment. [He allegedly ruled for 126 years, thus doing much better than Alexander over two millennia later who is said to have been on a similar quest. He would certainly be a longevity champ by today’s standards, however poor they may be.] Today’s transhumanists pursuing longevity do not make or need that claim. We are not pursuing anything lost or denied (by anyone but evolution) and do not look backward to history as much as forward to potential. Skipping over the valiant efforts undertaken by alchemists of various times and places in longevity, nanotech and related fields, as well as the beginning of the loosening of Rome’s power grip through the reformation and the renaissance, i see the roots of modern TH in the current that powered the enlightenment 350 years ago.
From the WP definition: “Its purpose was to reform society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and advance knowledge through the scientific method. It promoted scientific thought, skepticism and intellectual interchange and opposed superstition, intolerance and some abuses of power by the church and the state.” It was not concerned with many of today’s transhumanist issues, largely because contemporary ones were much more pressing, and generally because one can not jump before one can walk. In fact one can not even walk without a ground to stand on, and the thinkers and agents of the enlightenment have done a remarkable job in preparing that ground and helping us to get from there to here. But a daily news scan confirms that we still have a long way to go. I say we because transhumanists are the natural inheritors of the enlightenment legacy. There is not much of a point in achieving, and more importantly distributing, longevity without creating the conditions within which life is worth living, or in developing technological marvels for the benefit of all without also controlling the destructive tendencies to tear them down again.
During the french revolution these ideals were encapsulated within the concepts of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, immediately sparking righteous debates about their mutual compatibility. While in practice the art of balancing them must be mastered, which may differ by the type of polity desired, they can be likened to the three legs of a stool that can not maintain stability if one of them is missing. [There is an echo here of the concepts of Power, Wisdom and Love, that are similarly interdependent – and yes, i know that in an enlightened way they reflect the catholic trinity, but giving them silly, all male names warrants immediate objection.]
“Transhumanism is a new philosophy that has been proposed to continue the ideas of humanism in a new world where science and technology are the major drivers of change.” – José Cordeiro.
After over two centuries of steady scientific progress despite religious resistance of increasing fierceness and decreasing potency, about 150 years ago in Europe even the core ‘competency’ of religion began to be successfully questioned. More than most the christian cult(s) had for political reasons exercised tight control to maintain its monopoly of communicating with ‘the divine’ on behalf of their dependants. [The doctrine of ‘papal infallibility’ enshrines this monopoly]. Throughout the middle (dark) ages independent researchers of altered mental states had to operate in secrecy and danger. With the arrival of translations by mostly german scholars of eastern religious and enlightenment texts, efforts that were supported by some masonic forces, more people in Europe became aware of the existence of traditions and technologies enabling the attainment of ‘divine experience’, or more generically awareness alteration, without mediation, supervision or permission by agents of the religious establishments. The incorporation of the Theosophic Society in 1875 and the Golden Dawn in 1888, as well as the arrival of several indian gurus in the west, were milestones in this process. In contrast to the reformation almost 400 years earlier which was – besides politics – largely about bad business practices, this was the beginning of the realization among educated people in the west that even in these endeavours, where the religious establishment claimed exclusive expertise, it is in fact, with its preinterpretations, value judgments and prohibitions, more of a hindrance than a help.
In the meantime technological advances kept multiplying, finally showcasing the latest achievements in two wall to wall wars, during which people’s primary concern was survival. Only at the beginning of the second half of last century, with rising prosperity and security in the ‘developed’ countries, did some finally resume asking questions about Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité and started devising practical answers which invariably led to more questions etc. I was privileged to witness these processes from the inside. Here is what i saw being pursued and developed (an incomplete list):
- Personal self determination, which includes control of one’s body and mind (appearance unleashed from convention and fashion, choices in sexual, intellectual, political, economic and religious behaviour, rejection of the concept of victimless crimes).
- Freedom from oppression (internally: police rule, information manipulation, and externally: colonial rule).
- Ending economic exploitation.
- Equality before the law.
- Ending disadvantagement of people by skin colour, nationality, gender, sexual preferences and age.
- Establishing food, health and housing security for everyone.
- Ending violence in war, crime and punishment.
- Solidarity in pursuit of these goals.
Thus the old unfulfilled promises of the enlightenment were revived in the 50s underground and came into full bloom during the rise of the counter culture in the 60s. Early pioneers of the coming IT revolution were part of this culture, but due to the unavailability of that technology outside of academia it did not start having a wider impact until the late 70s. Then Leary introduced the basic outline of transhumanist ideas with his SMI2LE agenda (Space Migration, Intelligence Increase, Life Extension) which reinforced the evolutionary message of his earlier Exo-Psychology and gave the enlightenment tradition an explicit orientation toward the future, and in the 80s the debate moved online. This is how i interpret José’s quote above and how i understand transhumanism.
Naturally the vast majority of religious – as well as secular – establishments (the ‘system’) had to, and obviously still does, oppose these ideas and activities, as much out of inertia as for preservation of power and privilege, which puts transhumanism and religion firmly on opposite sides of history, one pushing forward and the other trying to hold back, and this constitutes my second reason for viewing them as incompatible.
Frequently the argument is made that religions have produced countless magnificent intellectual, artistic and social achievements throughout history, which is based on an attribution error. High achievement individuals and currents occur continuously regardless of location and time, and while the conditions they find themselves in may be more or less conducive to their expression, many do by necessity adapt to their surrounding cultures. Even now in the age of cheap and fast physical and mental travel many find it hard, if even desirable, to detach themselves from their culture, which includes religion, because of traditions having been transmitted by their most significant and influential friends and teachers, even if they are not fervent believers. Newton thought of himself as a christian, albeit a heretic one, but i dare say he would not were he 20 years old today. Those achievements occur(red) not because of – ignoring the resistance effect (being provoked into action by adverse conditions) – but in spite of domination of culture by religion. [Liberation theology represents an interesting example showing elements of both, the cultural domination effect and the resistance effect. Coinciding with the blossoming of the counter culture and in a way being part of it, but taking place under then almost complete domination by the roman church, its adherents had not much of a chance to realize their socialist, equality oriented visions, which are more often associated with atheist attitudes, from outside of the church simply because there was not much space left. And while not questioning their faith, i am sure that by following what they understood to be the guidelines set by Jesus they violated church policies if not doctrine, and with limited but surprising success.]
“Hallowed be my changing name” – Fra∴ Permutabo
Humanity, or if you will biointelligence on this planet, is growing up. Unlike babies we have no need to suck on mummy’s tits any longer, and unlike children we have no more use for daddy’s institutional authority. We are teenagers now, with all the attending problems and promises: utterly confused yet full of ideas, with short attention span and lack of focus but highly energized and with boiling creativity. And most importantly we feature that most typical classic teenage desire to find out for ourselves and reject unquestioned tradition. We are coming into our own even though we have only vague ideas what that can, or will, or above all what we want it to, look like. In my initial definition of TH i mentioned ‘taking conscious control of … evolution’. The thrust is toward independence and self determination. This should not be confused with the simplistic libertarian approach so popular among teenagers of all ages, which under current conditions is not feasible and will not be until we master the basics of space migration and thus the means to implement sufficient habitat separation to accommodate incompatible lifestyles. People may choose to forfeit, even if only temporarily, their independence, for instance by making commitments to others or to causes or projects, or by joining communal lifestyles or lifeforms. But the emphasis is on ‘choose’. No one shall be forced or bamboozled by tradition or authority or god(s) (or their self appointed reps) into action or inaction.
This then is my third and final reason to claim incompatibility between the two: while religion over the last 10 millennia has maintained humanity’s status as dependent on higher forces, represented increasingly over time as male god(s) (daddys), transhumanism is a cry for liberation from that dependency and emphasizes the growth of our intelligence into young adulthood.
In summary i have presented three interrelated reasons for exorcising religious memes from transhumanism:
- Transhumanism can not achieve its goals unless it be based on reason.
- Transhumanism is moving forward while religion is clinging to the past.
- Transhumanism fosters self determination while religion demands submission.
And i expect that those who accept my premises will agree with my conclusions.
So what then is your – transhumanist – answer to my (original) title question ?
Referring to the subjects of what are currently called cosmology, particle physics, and the rest of the sciences, and thus redefining worship as scientific attention, the initial quote by DuQuette continues:
What pantheon of gods could possibly preside over
a world where every man and every woman is a star –
self-radiant and co-equal to every other star in the universe?
What powers or agencies still govern an environment
populated by independent creative beings?
The answer becomes obvious when we grasp the fact
that we are running out of cosmic elbow room.
When all is said and done, worshippers of the New Millennium
are left with three fundamental deities:
“the absolutely biggest One;
the absolutely smallest One;
and the One that is everything between the other two.”
This article was first published on Mon, May 13, 2013 in t-net v.0.5
* marketing/editors pick hero image from https://asunews.asu.edu/20121029_csrctranshumangrant