Information P1

The sky is blue, but the weather is not warm

The train is moving dangerously fast, but I am far enough away

I have a cough, but It feels more like irritation

I want the doughnut, but I really shouldn’t

I hate my life; I wish I were different

The world is information. Near to all of them we regard, process, and dismiss or react to without being aware of cognitive events going on. Everything that we perceive is a piece of information, and sometimes, it is a lie.

If I told you that there is no systematic way to prove that the entire world you are perceiving does not exist solely in your mind, would that bother you?

If I told you that there is no discernable way to determine if the entirety of reality is a simulation would that change things?

Probably not

Information that our brain receives is mostly broken down into two categories. Firstly: “That can’t hurt/chase/provide/need/desire/aroused/eat us or them”, in this scenario information that doesn’t directly bother us is deemed irrelevant. Secondly is information that catches our attention, stimulating our arousal (not necessarily sexual), appetite, needs or desires. The above information is a criminal oversimplification of brain processes, but it’ll do for us here.

The concept that reality might not exist is so irrelevant to the unconscious process of our brain that it takes a significant act of will to become cognizant of the fact. The above information is not used to demonstrate how unequipped we are to judge the nature of reality but to show that we disregard most of the information presented to us.

As stated before, memory doesn’t work in isolation, to remember something clearly there needs to be context and connection. While he brain retains basically everything, and some people with perfect memories can recall everything, we don’t notice, well, almost everything.

Go to the supermarket, watch people stand in front of the chocolate and struggle to decide, then quietly laugh a little bit. It’s insane; the brain makes its decision within a fragment of a second of being presented with options, but to avoid feeling like they made the wrong choice, people will stand for some time making sure they aren’t screwing themselves over. To the point where they leave, and have made a decision they didn’t want to. Now this dips in a lot with choice theory that we will look at a bit later on, but the cognitive processes involved with information gathering are largely automatic. Sure we can pay attention when we choose to, but that is quite frankly, rare for most people. We live in a world of unthinking, automatic behaviour, but it’s nobodies fault, we are geared that way.

Now imagine if you can change it

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Life

Humans as a species have become adept at moving life around, especially our own.

It’s funny, when I was thinking of what aspect of human augmentation to write about under the heading life, I wasn’t sure what to write about. There have been posts on death and immortality so I enjoyed the symmetry. I was going to talk about how we change ourselves to survive in any environment, but I want to talk about another aspect of life.

The one we live in

Our days are spent working, sleeping, nourishing our body, taking care of self or culturally imposed responsibilities, and a small period of time nourishing our minds. In a 40 hour week, there is startlingly little time for self-learning, self-care, and enjoying the passionate things in life. If you sacrifice income for more time, you probably can have more of things that make you feel alive, but at a reduced capacity. If that capacity is not reduced, fantastic, but for most of us, the concept of choosing life over money is not one we have been raised to do.

We are all similar beings with evolved traits passed on by our ancestors, but our personalities are unique. In the infinite variety of the human spectrum can we find a way to balance work and life for an entire city, culture, or nation? What about all of us? Has there been a culture before us that worked it out? In the immense time of human civilisation (and prior) has there been a combination that worked? Maybe the opposite is true, all the other times in the world were better and we have created a yoke for ourselves called modern society.

Can we dream anymore? Is there any hope? “All men lead lives of quiet desperation”, rings true enough, however without being able to share my consciousness I have no idea if that rings true for everyone.

Science tells us that there is a maximum amount of people you can have in your brain as friends before you stop being close to any of them. 147 I believe, which, perhaps ironically, is around the same size that a human community becomes most content at. More efficient communities, more close human connection, more flexible social conditions. Is the ideal social enhancement to take a step backwards?

How can we advance the human condition if our natural social state is the same as it was in the feudal era? What hope for a type I civilisation when our psychology is limited so?

Again though, if we make ourselves more adept at higher level social interactions do we compromise our humanity?

Eternity

Could we become immortal?

Assume that a scientist has developed a vaccine for ageing. No horrible side effects, no terrible conditions, simply a vaccine to never die.

The first thought naturally is: “WHOAH FUCK OVERPOPULATION DUDE.”

Well maybe not that but close.

Yeah, huge problem, resource depletion, overcrowding, crime, and that’s just the stuff that happens in the first generation. In a few more we have no movement of wealth or assets or home. No new places to work, no new places to live, no new surplus to take up. All the world’s resources are being consumed by those who have been alive for 100 years. Immortal, Infinite, oligarchs or presidents, priests, or authors. An unchanging world that violently protects what it has.

Social implications aside, maybe we might go insane. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast because all my mornings are the same. Memory is based on connections, both emotional and physical, and the more something is the same, the more we are less likely to remember it.

After a thousand years how many faces, emotions, places, people, events, are all going to be so similar you will never distinguish one from another.

Might even be that the brain has a storage capacity, because as much as our memory is crap, our brain retains everything we sense and think, you can’t remember it because it has no corollary. Could be at 437 years old your brain starts forgetting the fine motor skills you picked up on the first day of your life. You have to relearn your whole psychology, every quirk of nature or act of motion. Maybe that would mean there is a hard cap to the length of life an individual can have, after that they become a new person. Could even be that after a few hundred years of watching everything you love die, the humanity is kicked out of you. Immortal, inhuman, selfish, posthuman

Maybe we can’t stay human and be immortal. Maybe endings are so intrinsically linked to our lives that without them, we can’t BE human.

Changing death

Change death? Or change our reaction to it?

Let’s leave immortality for the moment and look at the social mechanisms that would be affected if we altered our perception of death.

Controversies stem from differing opinion. Nothing bifurcates a society like trying to conceptualise, and cope with death.

If we cannot remove death, then the only option is to change our understanding or reaction to it.

First, reaction. Removing our response to death would be monumentally wrong, fear of mortality suppresses an awful lot of behaviour in humans, so let us aim for specificity. Can we make it so that when someone we love dies, can we turn off, or repair, the emotional damage that follows? Emotion is a tricky subject; I would imagine some people would both fear, or love, the idea of being able to alter our emotions at will.

I suspect, and this is with no research, that this would not be ideal. Connection is an impossible task in the modern era, the complexities of social interaction, emotional interaction, and life, are so impossibly intricate as to be beyond the ability for this blog to deal with it.

Ask anyone in the street to remember ten bad things, and then ten good things. The bad things will be faster, our memory works more effectively with pain than with joy.

The social underpinnings of our society are well entrenched with our perceptions about death. If we minimised death would that reduce the fervour of our lives? Reduce us to be even more addicted to input than we are now. However, maybe, just maybe, it would free us. If you didn’t care about death, you might not care as much about the negative interactions of your community, to be the person you want to be, do the things that make you feel alive. All without worrying about the herd mentality.

Perhaps it would be real freedom.

This ties into changing our understanding of death. If we didn’t fear it, if it didn’t have a hold over us, if we didn’t spend a moment thinking we were going to die. Apart from a society acting like 22-year-old, social structures may begin to fall apart.

Who knows

Death

The human died, Departed, Deceased, Left us, Slain, Asleep for a long time, Expired, Missing the odd heart beat.

Meeting one’s maker, Vertically disinclined, Ambulatory restrictions, Bereft of life, Checking out the grass from underneath.

Dirt nap, Final chapter, Immortally challenged, Living impaired, On the unable to breathe list, Embracing entropy, Tending towards a state of chemical equilibrium.

Death is, well…

Fuck who knows.

A distinct lack of being animated and alive at the very least. The greatest fear of our individuality and society. The only part of reality we are singularly unequipped to deal with in its totality. The sheer lengths we have gone through as a species to understand, label, stop, mitigate, or just fucking straight up ignore it is insane.

Apparently I need my brain when I die so let’s just suck it out through my nose and leave it handy in a jar nearby.

But if I don’t die: Facing west/in bed of disease rather than in battle/holding my shield/without a coin for the ferryman/swaddled in robes and interred/blessed by the mouth of God. I don’t get to: Do the good thing/fight a lot, and drink/have a lot of sex/see my loved ones/eternal peace/whatever thing plus ooh beautiful thing.

I am meat, the seat of consciousness rests in the meat, the quirks and changes in my personality are made by the combination of neurons in my meat. Without the meat, there is no me, damage the brain in the meat and there is less me, take out a chunk of the meat and I cease to be the same.

This is not how the vast bulk of the world feels, fuck I find it near impossible to hold on to rationality. For a brain that already sucks at rational thinking, this is even harder. We struggle to live every day as if we are going to die and when loved ones die we change forever. The trauma of death causes emotional discordance that leads to a kind of brain damage. A powerfully traumatic death near to us can drive us crazy. It can change everything about us, alter our thinking, destroy whole civilisations.

Why?

I lost my mum last year to ALS (Motor Neuron Disease), and it was horrible, heart-wrenching, and painful. So much so it is a daily struggle to desire a connection to the world, in case I might feel that pain again. The frustration, the emptiness, the irrationality, the not knowing, the loss, the distraction, and the impossible rage at the unfairness of life. Every day my brain has a lack of understanding the death of a sentient human close to me.

For fucks sake why?

What conceivable evolutionary trend could that possibly serve, to make the inevitable loss of loved ones (and death is inevitable) so hard to deal with it causes damned brain damage

Any discussion of Humanity 2.0 has to include death, and ways to overcome the severe limitations of our psyche to handle the death of self and other selves. For if the discussion is about enhancing the natural state of humanity, what can be more important than taking away the impossible grief we all experience at one time or another?

We will all die one day, consistency is a myth. From moment to moment nothing’s the same anymore. For something that is so inexorably linked to the human condition we speak infrequently of the problems that might occur if we meddle in the ultimate path of nature. We will look at this next time

The Post Human God

I’ve… seen things… you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion; I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate… All those… moments… will be lost, in time, like tears… in… rain.” 
– Roy Batty (Blade Runner)

“I’ve walked across the sun. I’ve seen events so tiny and so fast they hardly can be said to have occurred at all, but you… you are a man. And this world’s smartest man means no more to me than does its smartest termite.” – Dr. Manhattan (Watchmen)

The world is changed; we burned it,
Stone becomes steel; mind becomes energy,
We are running out of time,
The stars called and we answered

The concept of trying to analyse or discuss the notion of a posthuman mind is absurd.

I cannot fathom the mind of the organism that my genes will become.

Time, space, matter, psychology, society, morality, movement, culture, energy, individuality, perspective, gender, personality, relationships, communication, and scale. These concepts that define the boundaries of our existence may either be warped beyond our definition, changed to represent the worst or best of us, or become totally, and completely, irrelevant.

“…represents the death of the humanist subject: the qualities that make up that subject depend on a privileged position as a special, stand-alone entity that possesses unique characteristics that make it exceptional in the universe—characteristics such as unique and superior intellect to all other creatures, or a natural right to freedoms that do not accrue similarly to other animals.  If the focus is on information as the essence of all intelligent systems, and materials and bodies are merely substrates that carry the all-important information of life, then there is no meaningful difference between humans and intelligent machines—or any other kind of intelligent system, such as animals. Or aliens.  Or a collection of substances that form an (arguably) intelligent entity, such as a colony of bees, the ecosphere of a planet, a group of algorithms, a group of cellular automata (which a number of thinkers, believe constitute our universe), or a colony of cells (which is, after all, what a human body is).  In other words, human exceptionalism is dead.  And we face an era in which we have to come to terms with recognising ourselves as merely systems integrated with other systems.” 

A posthuman is what can be defined as the next part of ourselves. One might assume this means a significant difference, and considerable evolutionary change, between them and us. A Posthumanist would disagree. The posthuman has removed the boundary conditions that are critical to the subsistence of the human psyche. Through merging, or becoming, technological intellects, or super intellects, this being would not exist as we do. A body would be merely fashion, distinctions of one person or another would be less tangible, or valid. The discrete and distinct difference between an organic mind and an artificial mind would be difficult if not impossible to determine. Humanism as a relevant philosophy would be completely redundant.

I go to sleep when it is dark because of an evolved response to hormonal triggers. This is absurd.

I go to work to earn money to pay for my house, my food, and my expenses.
This is absurd.

I use a clock to gauge the passage of time and make a reckoning of myself within that passage of time and measure against a task or event.
This is absurd.

I choose to become intimate with a man or a woman based on pre-determined sexual selection criteria. Criteria based on finding a fit mate and breeding.
This is absurd

I feel the ground is solid
I see the sky is blue
I feel sugar tastes sweet
I know what time it is
I use a toilet
I need protein in my diet
I use harmonic resonance against a substrate to produce sound for limited meaning based linguistic communication (I flap my meat to talk)
I think
I feel
I move…

This is absurd.

This, in some specific ways, is terrifying. We have the power to adjust ourselves, we have the power to change ourselves. Soon we may develop quantum computing, soon we may see a technological singularity. The generation of a strong AI (simply), and the inevitable merging of that with human minds. The spike happens, and in a generation we pass into memory, c’mon nobody feels sorry about the neanderthal. The physical extinction of our species in the not to distant future is a real possibility.

Keep in mind I said Physical…

The universe does not care if you walk, skip or jump, annihilate the other tribe, drill for oil, cheat on your wife. The cells in your body don’t care if you don’t like opera, or prefer felt tip pens to ballpoint ones. The stars in the sky can’t read your thoughts, can’t know your name. Individual freedoms, free will, choice, materialism, spirituality, or politic ideation are concepts that exist in the framework of being human. Being human is all we know, all we can perceive, all we can detect. It colours everything, and the psychology of our evolved traits is omnipresent within us. The human condition, vulnerable and scared, lonely in the universe, noble and heroic in our plans and endeavors, cruel and irrational in our paths. If I said the sky isn’t blue, you would think me mad, but what would the universe be like if the sky not being blue was irrelevant to sky being every conceivable colour. I cannot imagine the way the post-technological singularity being will think, it is largely impossible. I am after all, only human

What if you weren’t anymore?

What if you could fly?

What if you aren’t a you anymore?

We.

Ethics P3

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stone” – Albert Einstein

War

Every advancement we have made as a species has been used to exterminate ourselves.

In 1346, Tartars besieging the Genoese port of Kaffa launched plagued bodies over the walls of the city. Plagued bodies that are partly responsible for the second outbreak of the black death in Europe. The idea of using dead and diseased bodies in warfare continued until in 1855 Louis Pasteur discovers the existence of germs and diseases. This is employed in WW1 and 2 to deliver biological weapons to the enemy, to devastating effect.

The understanding of the microbial world has led to uncountable suffering in the hands of those who use it as weapons.

Any technology developed to augment the human body will be adjusted, tinkered, and weaponised to destroy humans.

Should we be investing in ways to create a total overhaul of the human body if the expected consequence is that technology being used to kill?

Ethics is not a standard model; there are perspectives and alterations that can be made. If a technology benefits the total sum of humanity (potentially), then is it worth the risk to a handful of individuals? Our economy runs on there being a strong top, comfortable middle, and punished lower. If we already punish the poorer parts will new biological technologies make any difference? If you are an economic rationalist (you bastard) than the idea of technologies used for both war and health is irrelevant since both the help and hurt are justified.

The idea is to create a better human, not create a new weapon, but is that even possible? As mentioned before, we are insane monkey creatures who operate entirely on instinct and fear the different, and outsider.

Next stop

The Post Human God

Ethics P2

“Easier to bend the body than the will.”

The body

Ever want to be a Jaguar? That would be awesome!

Ok aim lower, what about gills, double eyelids, antifreeze in the blood, and pressure collars in the circulatory systems. Deep oceans would present no barrier to entertainment!

Right, ok scale it way back.

Cellular Immortality, well that might be a tad more rational… Except, those experiments in the late 90’s that turned off cell death created, well, massive and impossible cancers.

Yeah… not yet perhaps

Well let’s talk designer biology

This was a big thing back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, popularised in a whole lot of fiction at the time, including Jurrasic Park. The idea that with sufficient knowledge of genetics, human physiology, and surgical techniques, we could alter our bodies for any purpose we could imagine. We could become… well not much really since it’s transplanting a human mind into a 0.001% different shape may not create the big wahoo we’re looking for.

But if alteration of our physical nature was possible and gained consumer appeal, what would be the effect? Should we do it? God forbid physical alteration becomes a fashion tren… Oh, wait… yeah. Can’t let those plus size models do the catwalking might upset the balance of whatever (<sarcasm>).

So it’s clearly an odd concept, certainly we can aim for technologies to cure disease, increase the quality of life, and rescue those in need. However what ethics could present in frivolous alterations to our appearance or bodies? Well taking a massive grain of salt because the argument is quite literally exactly the same when presented with tattoos or piercings lets jump right in!

We are insane half-evolved monkey creatures at best. Depending on which behaviourist or geneticist you want to listen to, free will is a myth and nearly 90% of our behaviour is motivated by evolved responses. Importantly, and without a great deal of debate, is that our sexual selection is absolutely based on instincts.

Women: Boobs, hair, hips, legs, smell.
Men: Hips, shoulders, hands, nose, smell.
Everyone: Face dimensions, symmetry, eye distances, smile.

We choose our partners mostly subconsciously, especially for sex. If we could alter our biology at will (this infers greater than plastic surgery, perfect replication without scars or implants), we could create a sort of perfect being to our subconscious sexual selection criteria. You could theoretically mould yourself to reflect the perfection another person seeks. What if every man or woman in your community meets the absolute needs of your sexuality? There has been some discussion on this: The human brain kind of sucks at dealing with getting everything it wants. Chances are if someone is physically perfect for you, you will find some small reason to have a problem, that may not even be there. Of course this assumes mental compatibility, but that could be the greater problem. If everyone can pay money to meet perfection for sex, and poor people are unable to compete, there will be this psychological maximum to meet. If physicality is taken from the equation will our personality be judged more harshly. In a handful of generations, this could produce a colony of clones. Made perfect by science and the personality engendered to a fine point by social selection.

Pretty sure I’ve seen this movie…

Interlude

So this post isn’t relevant to the larger theme going on at the moment, just a rant about stuff 😀 enjoy.

Based on comments to https://theconversation.com/why-should-we-place-our-faith-in-science-44463

“The problem lies in linguistics. A theologian has Faith and Belief in their God (big F and big B). A scientist has faith (little f) that the founding science underpinning their experiments is accurate. In the two situations, the words might as well be in different languages.

Science is a tool used to empirically test the world around us, and ensure it is vigorous and robust. Also, while attempting to remove human error. There is an erroneous assumption that SCIENCE is the same as KNOWLEDGE. For a colloquial understanding sure, but in any analysis they must become separate things in order to understand the concepts accurately. To do SCIENCE one employs a strict method to test a null hypothesis and demonstrate one is NOT WRONG. To use knowledge all I have to do is use memory, I do not have to test it. This is where the language breaks down. If I talk about dolphin behavior, it is not because I’ve used a tool to dissect the knowledge, it is because I have learned it at some point. (Anyway I’m a geologist, biologist, and science communicator, not a dolphin researcher).

While I understand the theory of electrons and conductivity, I do not need to employ the scientific method to have faith (little f) that the wires are hot. Some theologians might disagree and say that it takes Faith (big F) to accept that the wires in my house contain electricity because I have not tested it myself, I only accept it is there. However, the underpinning understanding is that I do not need to leave logic and rationality to explain the electricity in my house.
That is the idea, when it comes to the world around me I have faith that intelligent men have researched knowledge that I can use to judge it. I do not need to use God to explain the world around me, in this way the concept is not rational to me.

All that being said, science is a horrendously fallible tool. Andrew Wakefield being a notable example. A physicals journal just pulled 40% of its papers for improper peer review. The way we accept science is based on trust, and in the world today there is a significant level of distrust of science. The problem is that it should be a significant level of distrust for KNOWLEDGE, science is the tool not the output. To be honest unless you have a deep interest in the field or have studied and worked in the field, you are unlikely to have the tools to unpack a science experiment to determine its validity. This is seen in Quantum Mechanics, some of the principles cannot be accurately explained to people because there is no suitable analogy in or society to enable the language to do so. It is so weird; there is no way of expressing it except mathematically.

If you compare understanding of the world through a science output, and an understanding of the world through a theological output, they come out fairly similar. Hower the underpinning systematics are not the same.

The lack of trust in science is not because of the science; it is because people no longer trust the voice talking about the science given the opposition ideology often present, especially in climate change.”

Ethics P1

Would you give up the right to have children? Own property or have the right to vote? Would you approve of mandatory genetic filtering of your kids, you parents, the removal of individuals from the gene pool? Would you consent to contractually mandated biological upgrades?

As a species, we seek to explore, the next horizon, or the next mountain. It is in our nature, dozens of men and women have lost their lives during the space race in the late 20th century. Untold millions more lost to exploration in the vast length of human civilisation. But exploration has a cost, we cannot survive in a vacuum, the deepest ocean, the highest peaks, we require technology. However more often than not that technology that enables us to explore it used for anti-social intent, profiteering, greed, and war

We seek to fly but fear the sins of Daedelus.

The next few posts will be about the ethics of human augmentation. I will create some fake narratives to introduce sociological, political, scientific, and other problems that might we face right now, or might face shortly.

In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king

Psychology

When we are children we can learn at a prodigious rate, language, culture, science, maths, all knowledge falls before us. Science has recognised the concept of neuroplasticity: The flexibility of our neurones to forge new connections within the brain. In coming years medications or surgeries could be available that dramatically increase the intelligence, learning capacity, and creativity of adult humans.

The above scenario would give individuals who are capable of obtaining this technology a significant advantage over literally anyone without it. If there are substantial financial costs, it could isolate parts of the population into segments, rapidly exacerbating societal inequality.

In a recent study, brain locations were discovered to handle specific mental processes. In theory, these sites could be stimulated to encourage individual brain states, ergo, creating artificial highs without narcotics. While this could be of tremendous benefit for rehabilitation, it could also be devastating for chronic abuse (without consequences).

There are many more examples, but our physiology is defined by our history. Evolution produced a bipedal mammal with a certain suite of psychological conditions. While it is in our benefit to explore the limits of our biology, the chances for error is huge. Many noted biologists and bioethicists are wary of human enhancement, especially in areas of pharmacology and psychology for these very reasons. A generation ago we thought addiction was a personal flaw, we now understand there are valid evolutionary reasons for it, addiction causes repetitive behaviour. Repetitive behaviour instils cultural norms in a hostile world: There are some biologists who believe that OCD, autism, and savantism, have a reason for existing in our genetic lineage.

We try to rationalise our existence in the universe, the world, our environment. We look at the values we represent and never manage to change them. There have been more humans in slavery in the 20th and 21st century than in all other points of history combined.

Would we give the power of the flight to a species for whom rationality comes last in a long list of instinctive responses? Responses set deeply in our DNA.

It is not impossible to argue that humans are passionately, and incurably insane.

But for every bad step there is hope. Next week: Physiology.