Friday, May 3. 2013
Themes of how we will relate to each other when we live in Ray Kurzweil's singularity and are no longer oragnic, just disembodied consciousnesses uploaded to the digital world, have made it to Broadway. Well off, off Broadway at least. Broadway World reports on "Love Machine":
What do a small town girl flirting with a satellite, a robot giving a lecture about transhumanism, and a man uploading his consciousness into the digital ether all have in common? Love. Love Machine is created to reflect the current trend of the way humans have come to rely on technology. Below, BroadwayWorld has a first look at the piece, debuting at Incubator Arts Project on May 10!That should be really interesting. I wonder how to theatrically portray a disembodied consciousness and whether the audience will have any idea of what they are viewing.
No matter. Transhumanist ideas are here to stay. Next it will be a blockbuster musical-comedy about wayward artificial limbs and dreams of becoming re-embodied. I can see the headline: "Transhumans Take Broadway By Storm!"
Have you talked with your kids about enhancements yet?
Tuesday, February 26. 2013
In BioTalk Episode 3, Chelsea, from Reflections of a Paralytic, and I talk about sport, transhumanism, and what acceptance of performance enhancing drugs may mean for our kids and how they view sports. Check it out. I think it is a conversation worth having.
Tuesday, February 5. 2013
After Lance Armstrong admitted that he cheated with performance enhancing drugs, I was waiting for the transhumanists to claim him as their own. It didn't take long. The title of this Wired piece says it all: "Lance Armstrong should be celebrated as a pioneer in human enhancement."
The premise? Sure Armstrong broke the rules, but maybe it is the rules that are wrong and not Armstrong. Maybe we should allow and promote human enhancements in sport so that they will be safer, not just for the athlete, but for us coach-potatoes as well.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Wednesday, January 30. 2013
Transhumanism is not just about transforming humanity. Part of the movement seeks to redefine what it means to be a "person" extending personhood rights to any kind of intelligence, artificial or otherwise. (This, of course, means that humans without a sufficient intelligence, determined by elite minds, would not qualify as persons.)
Yale is hosting a conference to discuss non-human personhood. It is called The Personhood Beyond the Human conference and the transhumanist group The Institute of Ethics and Emerging Technologies has the details:
Personhood Beyond the HumanWhen Peter Singer is involved you know that some humans will not be considered "persons" while some animals will be.
Frankly, it is beyond time that the average citizen started taking notice. Pretty soon we might have days old babies without rights and African grey parrots with rights and we will be wondering "How did this happen?"
Thursday, January 24. 2013
This is exciting. A documentary film by Doug Wolens about transhumanism and the singularity with some serious players like Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey De Grey and Bill McKibben. It is called "The Singularity" and it asks right under the title "Will we survive our technology?" I am interested in finding out what the film maker suggests is the answer. Regardless, I applaud Doug Wolens for taking a serious look at what is no longer science fiction and is quickly becoming reality. Wolen writes:
Singularity advocates argue that consciousness is just another problem to solve or that it will just happen when a system is sufficiently advanced. But I was not too sure. The promise of this new future began to lose its luster. I started to see holes in some of the arguments and I began questioning the philosophical and moral implications. If smarter than human computers were created, how would they treat their human creators? Would everyone have the means to augment their intelligence or just the rich? What would happen if something went wrong with these super powerful technologies and destroyed everything on the planet? Or if these powerful technologies got in the wrong hands and were maliciously used? Maybe the singularity wasn’t such a good idea.
Thursday, January 3. 2013
Peering into the abyss of biotechnology, I have often mused that the problem with much of what goes on in fertility clinics and laboratories of the world is a denial of human nature. The denial that living human organisms, regardless of how they are created, are indeed human beings. They are small and immature, but human beings none-the-less.
This denial of the nature of humanity can be seen in nearly all the moral problems in our society: from the denial of the humanity of the unborn, the sick and the disabled; to the denial of our need of an intact family unit with both a mother and a father; to the denial that sex is a procreative event; to the denial that the safest most loving place to begin our lives is in our mother's womb, not in a laboratory; to the denial that the sex of your next child should be decided by God and not by you.
I was heartened that the Holy Father spoke about human nature in his Christmas address to the Roman Curia. It is the denial our God-given nature that threatens to destroy our families and our civilization.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Wednesday, December 12. 2012
I have always felt that Iron Man was the anti-transhumanist super-hero. His chest-plate is there to prevent shrapnel from entering his heart, not as an augmentation of an already healthy body. And instead of building a better soldier, Tony Stark builds a better suit. A suit that can be taken off at the end of the day and at the end of a career. Apparently, Iron Man 3, which opens in May 2013, delves into a tranhumanist plot line where Tony is compelled to enhance his body as well. Subculture for the Cultured has the story:
Extremis focuses on a battle between Tony Stark and a reactionary named Mallen, who has taken a dose of a genetic enhancer called Extremis. In their first encounter, Mallen handily defeats Stark leaving him beaten and close to death. Tony realizes he has no chance of defeating Mallen as long as he lacks Mallen’s speed and genetic enhancements.Interesting. This plot illustrates what many opponents of transhumanism have said for years. Transhumanism is NOT ABOUT FREEDOM to do with one's body as one chooses. Once people begin to enhance their otherwise healthy bodies, the rest of us have to as well just to keep up. Tony has to enhance to survive and beat the bad guy. Enhancements equal a loss of freedom not a gain. Wake up. Coercion is part of the augmentation package.
Saturday, November 17. 2012
There is a dangerous philosophy emerging in our fast-paced, technology-driven world of which most people are totally unaware. And yet, when Francis Fukuyama, economist at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, was asked what idea posed the "greatest threat to the welfare of humanity," his answer was this philosophy.
And yet I am positive most Catholics have never heard of it. Catholics certainly do not realize that they are being fed a steady diet of images in popular media that play right to the more seductive aspects of this ideology.
Continue reading at the National Catholic Register >>
Tuesday, November 13. 2012
So the other day on my blogging break my family made me sit down and watch the new Spider-Man movie, "The Amazing Spider-Man". I don't know why they had to make yet another Spider-Man flick, but for the sake of family unity I cuddled up on the coach and watched.
Recently, I hit a bunch of unsuspecting Catholic women at an innocuous book club over the head with the reality that transhumanist ideas are everywhere and that our children are soaking them up like a sponge. "The Amazing Spider-Man" was full of them.
I appreciated that the depiction of transhumanism, called "cross-species genetics" in the movie was a negative one. Dr. Connors, in a desperate attempt to keep his job and regrow his lost arm, injects himself with what I assume is a concoction of reptile DNA. In a total suspension of disbelief, Dr. Connors gets his arm back and then some when he turns into something horrific, the vile character of the Lizard that is whole, strong and, in the Lizard's opinion, superior to all humanity.
But Dr. Connors doesn't stop there. He wants the whole human race to share in his new found genetic superiority. He now understands that humans are weak and pathetic and it isn't good enough to fix us. He needs to change us and it is for our own good. In a monologue in the the depths of the sewer, Dr. Connors muses, "This is no longer about curing ills. This is about finding perfection." (At which point my 10 year-old son whispers to me, "Don't say a word, Mom. Don't say a word.") Dr. Connors, of course, attempts to bring all of New York City into his genetic nirvana.
I was heartened that Dr. Connors was such a tragic figure as super-heroes and villains with super powers have traditionally been. So why does the depiction of a lizard-man in a silly remake of a silly comic matter? Because I hear Dr. Connor's monologue everywhere coming from normal everyday people. People like this commenter at the transhumanist site Singularity Hub who tells us how he or she really feels about being human:
"Who doesn’t want to be smarter, prettier, healthier? Who doesn’t want to have wings to fly through the air, or gills to breathe under water? Are we stuck just being land dwellers? We spend most of our lives OBTAINING and MAINTAINING health, beauty, intelligence, etc., when we could be spending all this time and money obtaining and maintaining loving relationships with other people (transhumanists!) and going on adventures out to space exploring the universe, rather than stuck at home watching crap movies from Hollywood, going to school half our lives and drowning in debt because of it, and then just paying bills and taxes till you die. That’s no life, that’s SLAVERY.The screenwriters from "The Amazing Spider Man" could have put these exact words in the mouth of Dr. Connors. Take note that this person qualifies who "people" are: other transhumanists. Join them or be inferior, considered less than a person.
Do your children a favor: use these super-hero movies as a way to talk about what it means to be human, how God loves us just the way we are, and going beyond curing disease and disability to changing our God-given nature is a disaster waiting to happen. My 10 year-old son can spot a transhumanist story line from a mile away. Can yours?
Wednesday, September 19. 2012
New Scientist claims that Giuseppe Vatinno became the world's first transhumanist to be elected as a member of the a parliament. Giuseppe Vatinno's platform? "Becoming less human is not necessarily a negative thing..." From New Scientist:
Why do you think it is important to have a transhumanist politician?
Wednesday, August 15. 2012
Parents everywhere want the best for their children. We spend money on swimming lessons, piano lessons, tutors, private coaches and the latest gadgets so that they will have an edge over the other kids. We want them to succeed.
But many want to go beyond lessons and gadgets and actively give their children a genetic advantage with germ-line genetic enhancements. Sounds fantastic doesn't it? Having the smartest, fastest and best looking children on the block.
Logically, this is about as far as most people get before they say, "Sign me and my kids up!" But ask yourself what enhancing our children really means. It means being trapped forever in a dangerous biological game of "Keeping up with the Jones."
Bill McKibben, an environmentalist, in his book Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, outlines the trap we will fall into once we begin to enhance our offspring:
...if germline manipulation actually does begin, it seems likely to set off a kind of biological arms race.... Of course, the problem with arms races is that you never really get anywhere. If everyone's adding 30 IQ points, then having an IQ of 150 won't get you any closer to Stanford than you were at the outset. The very first athlete engineered to use twice as much oxygen as the next guy will be unbeatable in the Tour de France - but in no time he'll merely be the new standard. You'll have to do what he did to be in the race, but your upgrades won't put you ahead, merely back on a level playing field.The typical argument is that enhancements are just like gadgets. We are always upgrading those, so what's the problem upgrading our kids. The problem is that people are not gadgets. People should never be considered obsolete. But that is exactly where enhancements will take us.
McKibben warns us:
If germline genetic engineering ever starts, it will accelerate endlessly and unstoppable into the future, as individuals make the calculation that they have no choice but to equip their kids for the world that's being made. Once the game is under way, in other words, there will be no moral decisions, only strategic ones. If the technology is going to be stopped, it will have to happen now, before it's quite begun.I wholeheartedly agree. Enhancing our children will be a destructive genie that once it is out of the bottle, will never relent. Enhancements will reduce our moral worth to no more than that of an old computer collecting dust in the corner of the basement. So unless you want your children or grandchildren to become "obsolete" it is time to fight enhancements well before they are a reality.
Monday, August 13. 2012
Hollywood is clueless about a lot of things. They don't get marriage. They don't get true love. They certainly don't get religion.
But one thing they do get is transhumanism, the promises, the pitfalls and the peril. Bryan Singer, creator of The Usual Suspects and the X-men movies, has made a digital series on transhumanism called H+.
Continue reading at Creative Minority >>
Tuesday, July 17. 2012
So I finally did it. I sat down and read The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil. And while many question Kurzweil's calculations, and his unbounded optimism about the technology of the future, The Singularity is Near is possibly the closest thing to a transhumanist manifesto as you can find.
It was as enjoyable to read as eating sand, not only because of what it offered: endless pages of technical jargon, but also because of what it didn't: any sense of anything other than "self."
What is the Singularity? Well defining it is a bit like nailing Jello to the wall, but I will give it a try. The Singularity is the moment when human intelligence merges with non-biological technology to vastly enhance our capabilities. The word singularity is derived from the mathematical term referring to a value that does not have a finite limitation. So essentially, after the Singularity, human intelligence, with the help of machines, will no longer be limited to what can be accomplished in our finite brains. With technology, it has the chance to become infinite.
I will let Kurzweil explain the Singularity:
"The Singularity will allow us to transcend these limitations of our biological bodies and brains. We will gain power over our fates. Our mortality will be in our own hands. We will be able to live as long as we want (a subtly different statement from saying we will live forever.)"Basically, we will merge with our technology, and Kurzweil predicts:
"There will be no distinction post-Singularity, between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality."And what will this technological utopia look like? The human body version 2.0 will be mostly "non-biological" with all of our major systems, nervous, circulatory, immune, digestive, and respiratory augmented or replaced by nanotechnology. Nanobots will allow us to perform Olympic pace sprints for 15 minutes without taking a breath, eat whatever we want without gaining weight, have super-fast, limitless cognitive skills, summon a virtual reality, including a virtual lover, at will, and have a "back-up" of our consciousness ready if needed. We will never get sick and, most importantly to Kurzweil, we will never have to die.
So when will this amazing human 2.0 come into existence? Because of the exponential growth of technology, Kurzweil predicts as soon as the 2030s. Yes that's right. In the 2030s, I will hopefully, be getting ready to retire and take care of my grandkids. My children will be starting their families. In other words, not in the distant future, but in this lifetime. Kurzweil writes:
"Let's consider where we are, circa early 2030s. We've eliminated the heart, lungs, red and white blood cells, platelets, pancreas, thyroid and all the hormone-producing organs, kidneys, bladder, liver, lower esophagus, stomach, small intestines, large intestines and bowel. What we have left at this point is the skeleton, skin, sex organs, sensory organs, mouth and upper esophagus and brain."He goes on to describe human body version 3.0 made a special material where we will be able to "rapidly alter our physical manifestations at will." With a 3.0 body, not only could change ourselves to be our idea of physical perfection, but our lover could even change us to be what they would prefer.
Now many people will simply laugh at Kurzweil and dismiss him as some over-optimistic technophile. While his predictions may well be zealous, I would not ignore him or his wares. If even a small percentage of what he discusses in this book comes to pass, we are still in trouble.
Namely that as the elite enhance, the poor will be left behind. The enhanced will then not only have a monetary advantage, but a biological one as well. Kurzweil acknowledges the disparity that is inevitable. He is even kind of snarky about it. He says that the unenhanced human will be "unable think fast enough to keep up." And when discussing the question of whether or not to enhance humanity, Kurzweil writes:
"And to the extent that there will be debate about the desirability of such augmentation, it's easy to predict who will win, since those with enhanced intelligence will be far better debaters."He admits that the poor will be behind the rich in becoming enhanced, but in true transhumanist style he dismisses the problem by insisting that at by that time the pace of technological advance will be so fast that the poor will only have to wait a short time before they too can afford to enhanced. He is assuming of course that everyone in the world will have access to such technologies. In a human existence where dictators hoard money, food and medicine and keep them from the people, I don't think it is a valid assumption.
What I found most disturbing about The Singularity is Near was not the physical description of the transhuman, but simply a lack of any of the virtues that make life worth living. The whole book is an homage to "self." While others would find it lacking a sense of reality, I found it lacking in love, sacrifice, and selflessness. It is especially haunting in that the self-giving conjugal love of husband and wife and the gift of children that result are non-existent, an after thought, victims of virtual lovers and the selfish quest to live forever.
Like I said, it was like eating sand. Terrible taste, terrible texture with little or no nutritional value. Here's hoping the Singularity is not near. Ever.
Tuesday, May 29. 2012
Sometimes I wonder if Germany is the last bastion of common sense in our world. In Germany, they do not allow any research on human embryos. Germany just recently caved to pressure and allowed preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) on human embryos, but only for cases whether the parents carry genetic disease. (In the U.S., we have no restrictions on PGD, not even for sex selection.) And it was Greenpeace of Germany that successfully challenged the patenting of human embryos in Europe. With the crazy ideas coming out of England and Australia these days, I found this story refreshingly sane.
Dr Roland Kipke, of the University of Tübingen International Centre for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities, and his colleagues have written a paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics arguing that cognitive enhancing drugs for otherwise healthy people are too dangerous to be ethical. From Michael Cook's commentary at BioEdge:
They contend that the neuroenhancers are wrong on two counts.Note the authors mention the coercive nature of enhancements. You can choose not to enhance, but you will be left behind or forced into low-paying, low-satisfaction positions. Medicine, research, engineering, the law, etc will all be reserved for the enhanced because us lowlys who don't want to be addicted to some drug we don't need just won't be smart enough anymore. Some choice.
Monday, May 7. 2012
Commenter Tom from AZ writes about transhumanism:
How we can make machines to do things, rather than modifying ourselves, anyone who prefers the alternative is regressive. One of the key traits of anatomically modern humans is that, rather than adapting our bodies, we adapt our tools.Tom is right. Instead of modifying a soldier's eyes to have night vision, give him the best night vision goggles and then let him take them off at the end of the day and at the end of his career.
We should be looking to advance technology like cell phones, glasses and hand-held computers that we can use and then change or stop using without having to see a physician. Integrating these technologies into our bodies with genetic enhancements, artificial limbs or eyes replacing perfectly good ones, or hooking up artificial intelligence straight into our nervous system ensures that we are slaves to the technology.
In preparation for the new Avenger Movie, my son and I watched "The Incredible Hulk" with Edward Norton and in it I found a gem. In the now famous post credit scenes that lead up to The Avengers, General Ross is drowning his sorrows in a bar. His attempt to create a super soldier out of actor Tim Roth had some serious unintended consequences. In essence, Ross created a monster he couldn't control.
Tony Stark walks in and says to the General, "I hate to say I told you so, but that super soldier program was put on ice for a reason. I always thought that hardware was much more reliable." Ross replies, "You always wear such nice suits." 0:38 for those who want to watch it:
In other words, don't mess with the human body. Instead make a better suit.
Friday, April 27. 2012
More and more I am seeing the assertion that transhumanism and Christianity are not only compatible, but that Christians can and should be transhumanist. Transhumanists know that to bring about their technological utopia, they need to convert the one group that has a real foundation with which to resist the transhumanist future: Christians. In fact, transhumanist Eric Steinhart wrote the following in the Journal of Evolution and Technology:
But transhumanism cannot avoid a fateful engagement with Christianity. Christian institutions may support or oppose transhumanism. Since Christianity is an extremely powerful cultural force in the West, it is imperative for transhumanism to engage it carefully.Steinhart comes armed with Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's book The Phenomenon of Man as a way for transhumanists to convince Christians we are all on the same team. With prophetic vision, the Holy Office issued a warning against the writings of Teilhard de Chardin in both 1962 and again in 1981 asking "Religious institutes, rectors of seminaries and presidents of universities, effectively to protect the minds, particularly of the youth, against the dangers presented by the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and of his followers."
Now a Presbyterian minister and professor at Columbia Theological Seminary is telling Christians that transhumanism is "inevitable." David Yonke writes in the Toledo Blade:
Welcome to the posthuman world. Everyone is smart, tall, good looking, free from disease, and, some predict, will live forever.Douglas is a bit ambiguous, but he encourages Christians to "Believe in a better future because God is doing something." I take that to mean that we are to embrace the changes that transhumaism will bring because it is the work of God. (Douglas also references Teilhard de Chardin's writings against which we have been warned.)
But let us look at the transhumanist future so eloquently reiterated by Yonke: everyone is smart, tall, beautiful, disease-free and will live forever. It this transhumanist desire to live forever that lets me know that this movement is not of God.
Living forever in this world means forsaking the most important part of Christianity: the eternal life with God in Heaven purchased by the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus Christ. What better way for Satan to deny us this gift than to convince mankind we should live forever here in this flawed existence? That way we may never receive what God has lovingly provided for us, a place in His house for eternity.
But what about the rest of it? The "everyone is smart, tall, beautiful and disease-free" part? Well, the transhumanist really cannot ensure those traits will be available to everyone. Really how could that be? With billions of humans living hand to mouth, some without clean water, electricity or plumbing, how will we enhance everyone to be smart, tall, beautiful and disease-free?
The truth is that the smart, tall, beautiful and disease-free life will be for those who have access and can afford the technology, creating a two-tiered society where the enhanced will rule over the unenhanced. This will further divide the haves from the have-nots and breed discord and injustice. Two realities we Christians are supposed to work against.
The Catholic Church is very aware of this disparity that will come from going beyond using technologies like genetic engineering to heal and using them to enhance humanity beyond what can be accomplished by nature. Dignitas Personae states:
Some have imagined the possibility of using techniques of genetic engineering to introduce alterations with the presumed aim of improving and strengthening the gene pool. Some of these proposals exhibit a certain dissatisfaction or even rejection of the value of the human being as a finite creature and person. Apart from technical difficulties and the real and potential risks involved, such manipulation would promote a eugenic mentality and would lead to indirect social stigma with regard to people who lack certain qualities, while privileging qualities that happen to be appreciated by a certain culture or society; such qualities do not constitute what is specifically human. This would be in contrast with the fundamental truth of the equality of all human beings which is expressed in the principle of justice, the violation of which, in the long run, would harm peaceful coexistence among individuals.It is not the fact that transhumanists are trying to sell their wares to Christians that bothers me. It is the fact that I don't think Christians are well-versed enough in their own faith to realize they are being sold ocean-front property in Montana. I get as much resistance to my writings on enhancement and transhumanism from fellow Christians as I do from transhumanists. I have been called anti-American and anti-military for pointing out the dangerous transhumanist messages in Captain America. I have been told that there would be nothing wrong with genetically enhancing a soldier's eyes to have night vision because it would help our military. (Talk about reducing a person to a means-to-an-end. Don't violate a soldier's bodily integrity for the rest of his life so you can feel safer. Give him a pair of awesome night-vision goggles that he can take off at the end of the day and at the end of his career.)
I am not the only one who sees the incompatibility between Christianity and transhumanism. Wesley J. Smith, a much better mind that I, recently said it best. Smith wrote:
Christians certainly believe that they will indeed become a new (“glorified”) being–but not “post human,” and certainly not through human efforts. And Rev. Douglas also seems to embrace a trend I see growing within some Christian circles, which expediently conflates what I want with that which supposedly God wants for me.
Monday, March 19. 2012
Dean Koontz understands the foundations of the transhumanist movement unlike any other popular fiction writer today. His latest novel 77 Shadow Street is so timely because it explores the marriage of transhumanism, which he calls posthumanism, and environmentalism. Last week we were introduced to the musings of academics who envisioned engineering humans in an effort to combat "climate change." In 77 Shadow Street, scientists did just that. They use nanotechnology enhance humanity and make us immortal and then artificial intelligence and nanotechnology to control the human threat to the planet. It doesn't turn out the way they expected.
The novel follows the residents of 77 Shadow Street, a luxury condominium, as they are temporarily transported to the transhumanist future. Some do not survive the horrors they encounter. One character muses about the posthumanist movement:
The dark prospect of posthumanism was part of it that most excited the theorists and scientists: the augmentation of the brain with hundreds of millions of microcomputers made largely of carbon nanotubes, which would be distributed throughout our gray matter. These tiny but powerful computers would interact with one another, with the brain, and potentially with every computer in the world through a wireless network, tremendously enhancing the individual's intelligence and knowledge. The posthuman species, a combination of biological and machine intelligence, never aging, nearly immortal, still human in appearance, inspired scientists at MIT and at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, and at hundreds of other universities, institutes, and corporations around the world. They saw at last a possibly swiftt path to a human civilization with superhuman capabilities, the total submission of nature to humanity, the acquisition of godlike power, the looming end of nationalism and tribalism, and superstition, therefore the elimination of limits in all things.And that sums up what I believe to be the heart of transhumanism: an unhealthy desire to subjugate nature to human will. But in doing so, we will subjugate ourselves and our own nature to the technology we create.
I do not want to give too much away but I will say that Koontz is astute in his assessment of science and scientists. And even after seeing the future, the altruistic scientist that set the ball in motion cannot grasp that his good intentions are not enough to stop the freight train of our own technology now out of our control.
In private correspondence in 2011 with Mr. Koontz on a related matter, he told me about 77 Shadow Street. I share what he wrote only because I believe it is something everyone needs to not just read, but hear. Written on a typewriter, he wrote the following about posthumanism:
Reading about the subject to research the novel, I was struck by how insane most people in this movement sound when they are writing about their dream future; insane not because I am too ignorant of science to understand them, but because they are so narrowly focused on the promise of physical immortality, that they can see only the promise of power that entrances them and nothing of the social, civilizational, and biological disaster that will make their dream a nightmare.I am with Mr. Koontz that the transhumanist future will not be the dream the transhumanists envision. It will be a nightmare where we are slaves to technology that radically changes our nature.
Sometimes I wonder if transhumanism is the modern Tower of Babel. Will God scatter us to the ends of the Earth before we can destroy Creation with our irrational desires to radically change it? Will economies collapse before nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering become mainstream enough to effect such a destruction of Nature? Only time will tell.
Wednesday, March 7. 2012
You cannot believe the flack I get for pointing out the transhumanist aspects of Captain America. It has been suggested that I am anti-military and possibly anti-American. Good, faithful Catholics have argued with me that Captain America was a good guy and not an example of the arrogant and power-hungry transhumanist that they envision.
I love Captain America as a super hero too but I am not certainly not going to overlook that in this beloved story line the United States Army took a perfectly healthy man and put him through a potentially lethal experiment to make a weapon of war. Talk about taking a child of God, disrespecting his inherent dignity and turning him into an object to be used.
E. Christian Brugger, Associate Professor of Moral Theology at Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado and Fellow of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, was asked about transhumanism and the Catholic world view and guess what example he uses? You guessed it: Captain America. Here is Dr. Brugger on Zenit.org:
The problem of "Transhumanism" is so critically important to understand, and so poorly understood, that I think the topic deserves more than a single column. I therefore address it here and in my next ZENIT bioethics briefs.I don't want to gloat or anything, but I feel vindicated. Also read Dr. Brugger's Introduction to Transhumansim.
Friday, March 2. 2012
The Disney channel has a new show called Lab Rats. Three of the main characters are teenagers that according to the promotional material are super-human kids genetically engineered by a billionaire investor to "save the world." Each kid has a special enhancement. Chase has been altered to have super intelligence. Bree has been enhanced with super speed and agility. And Adam is super strong, has laser vision, and is super dumb.
Hat Tip: Bill Genereux
Monday, February 20. 2012
The transhumanist will always insist that transhumanism is about healing. It is simply about eliminating suffering and so fear of the transhumanism movement is irrational and unfounded. And yet when you look at what the transhumanist actually proposes you find a bizarre mentality that everything found in nature, including humanity, is up for redesign.
Take this piece by David Pearce in H+ magazine, the magazine for transhumanists. He titled it "Five Top Reasons Transhumanism Can Eliminate Suffering" which sounds all fantastic. And then you get into the dirty details. The first suggestion to eliminate suffering is to "weed out" those of us who feel pain more acutely or genetically engineer ourselves to feel less physical pain. Pearce writes:
We’ll shortly be able to choose the genetically-shaped pain thresholds of our future children. Autosomal gene therapy will allow adults to follow suit. Clearly, our emotional response to raw pain is modulated by the products of other genes. But recent research suggests that variants of the SCN9A gene hold the master key. Thus in a decade or two, preimplantation diagnosis should allow responsible prospective parents to choose which of the SCN9A alleles they want for their future children — leading in turn to severe selection pressure against the SCN9A gene’s nastier variants.This suggestion is actually a combination of transhumanism (the genetic engineering of adults) and eugenics (the screening of unborn part) which makes sense because transhumanism has its roots in the eugenics movement.
(Take careful notice of the "severe selection pressure" that Pearce mentions. I have had many transhumanists insist that transhumanism is all about the freedom of choice. They insist that no one will be coerced in the transhumanist utopia. And yet when transhumanists use phrases like "severe selection pressure" we had better listen.)
The problem with this suggestion to "reduce" suffering is that pain is a good thing. It lets us know when we are injured. There are people with a rare genetic disorder called congenital insensitivity to pain, sometimes caused by a SCN9A gene variant. The lack of pain sensitivity means these poor unfortunate sufferers have no idea when they injure themsleves. Many bite off their tongues or have other serious oral injuries inflicted by their own teeth. ABC news reported about one girl who had this condition. She had her teeth removed to prevent her from further injuring her mouth and hands. When she was 2, she broke her jaw and did not know it. She ended up on IV medication for 6 weeks due to the infection that resulted. She has also already lost her left eye.
At least Pierce has the sense to say that engineering the SCN9A gene to this level is not a good idea. But he goes on to suggest something even more outrageous. He wants to eliminate predatory carnivorism in nature to eliminate the suffering of prey:
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to phasing out suffering altogether is wild animal suffering. Right now, billions of sentient beings in the wild are dying of thirst and hunger, or being disembowelled, asphyxiated or eaten alive by predators. Jeff McMahan’s landmark article in the New York Times is the first print-published plea from a mainstream academic calling for predatory carnivorism to be phased out.He wants to turn nature upside down and get rid of the predator-prey relationship? Seriously? And we are supposed to believe that transhumanism is a entirely benign endeavor that is going to create a utopia on Earth. Excuse me if I am not buying.
Friday, February 17. 2012
It maybe official. I think I am a TED video junkie. Here is one (hat tip ScienceRoll) that describes how researchers are developing a prosthetic eye to treat blindness. Take the time to watch the whole thing because it is fascinating.
This is the very kind of biotechnology that we Catholics should support.
But beware! The transhumanists will claim these advancements for themselves. They will say this prosthetic eye is just one more example of how transhumanism, the movement that seeks to use technology to make ordinary man "post human," will make all of our lives better. Except this prosthetic eye is not an example of transhumanism. This is an example of medicine, taking technology to restore a normal human function. Transhuman literally means "beyond human." So the transhumanist does not just want to restore normal function, they want to augment or replace it. So once the technology is good enough that the digital images are as good or better than what the normal human eye can see, the transhumanist wants such prosthetics to replace their eyes that can see perfectly well.
We can embrace ethical technology where the intent is to cure or reconstruct. Once the technology passes into the realm of enhancement of the otherwise healthy, it is no longer medicine and becomes something else entirely.
Tuesday, January 31. 2012
Many people who read my work elsewhere think transhumanism movement is not an important pro-life issue. It is so abstract an idea to them that they regularly wonder why I bother writing about it. I think it is simply because they don't realize how much transhumanism is already in our consciousness. Artificial human enhancements are depicted everywhere from TV (Chuck) to movies (Captain America and Limitless) to video games (Deus Ex.)
And whether parents realize it or not, transhumansim is especially in the consciousness of our children. In a recent conversation, my own son asked me why I don't like human enhancements. He was distressed and asked, "Then how can I become a super hero?" My husband commented that he wanted to be a super hero too when he was nine and every boy in the world wants to be a super hero. I responded that our son's generation may actually be able to fulfill those childhood and childish "dreams" of becoming enhanced.
This is the first time in history technology may make it possible for people to be able to chase those fantastical "super-hero" dreams of their youth with cognitive enhancing drugs, genetic engineering or artificial intelligence. The problem with childhood fantasies is that children often cannot see the possible devastating effects of drugs or invasive procedures on their otherwise healthy bodies. I fear without bringing transhumanism out of the shadows and into the light for scrutiny, an entire generation may not be equipped with enough insight to resist the overwhelming pressure to enhance simply because everyone else is doing it.
Even if your everyday person is not aware of transhumanism, our leaders are aware, or should be. Transhumanism was even a subject in the Republican Presidential debates. Newt Gingrich was asked by Wolf Blitzer about genetic engineering and human enhancement. Mother Jones reports Gingrich's reply:
"These are at the heart of the next 40 years. And we've got to understand: Somewhere on this planet there will be a dictatorship that uses science in a way that is truly grotesque. And then you're gonna have, for example, a decision to make, if someone can participate in the Olympics who's been genetically engineered. I mean you're gonna have, there's an array of different countries out there, some of which have values so lacking to any of us that you're gonna have these kinds of things."
Wednesday, January 25. 2012
Overheard in the Taylor house:
Son: (with grumpy face) Mom you don't like human enhancements do you?
Me: No, I don't
Son: (with even grumpier face) Then how will I become a super hero?
Me: You don't need to be enhanced to be a super hero. God loves you just the way you are. It is wrong to take drugs or do other stuff to make yourself super human, especially if you are already healthy. What if someone bad gets enhanced and hurts a lot of people? Or what if only rich people can get enhanced and then make life harder for everyone else? What if it gets so that you need lots of drugs or artificial limbs to play sports because talent and hard work aren't good enough to compete anymore? Or if you need a cyber-brain to go to college or be a doctor? What happens if normal people want to be part animal or glow-in-the-dark or just a brain walking around in a robot? What if parents enhance their children and the children don't like their enhancements?
Son: (Long pause) But I want to be a super hero, Mom.
Husband: Every kid wants to be a super hero when they are 9. I wanted to be one too when I was his age.
Me: True. But this generation could actually use technology to fulfill their childhood fantasies of becoming super human making the "haves" have even more and the "have nots" have even less. Once we allow healthy people to make themselves super human, a society with the enhanced ruling over the unenhanced is inevitable.
Son: What about Spiderman?
Me: His enhancements were an accident.
Son: What about the Hulk?
Me: Again an accident.
Son: The Fantastic 4?
Me: Terrible space accident. I mean look what happened to the Thing.
Son: The X Men?
Me: They were born that way and some of them hate it. Imagine if your parents did that to you on purpose and you hated it.
Me: CIA experiment on a normal guy. Wrong. Remember the Intersect hurt both Chuck and Morgan's brains.
Son: Captain America and Wolverine?
Me: Healthy men (small and mutant, but healthy) experimented on by the military. Very wrong thing to do.
Son: (sad face) Mom, you don't like human enhancements.
Me: No I don't. I think they are wrong and bad for everyone. We need to love ourselves and each other just the way we are. That is the way to be happy and to be a real hero.
Son: I bet you Satan likes human enhancements.
Me: Yes, son, I believe he does. I believe he does.
Tuesday, December 27. 2011
The gaming industry is into transhumanism. The idea of removing a perfectly good limb and replacing it with one that has super human abilities is the stuff of video games, for now. Deus Ex is a game about transhumanism. Part of the hype for Deus Ex was the creation of a fictitious corporation, Sarif Industries that specializes in human augmentation using artificial body parts. Here is Sarif Industries' perfect pitch for transhumanism. This is the hard sell for using technology to replace normal body parts augmenting healthy humans beyond normal human abilities:
Sounds fantastic doesn't it? Transhumanism is super seductive. And yet the reality will be far from what is depicted above. Once people begin to augment, others will feel compelled to do the same, removing perfectly good eyes, ears, limbs and replacing them just to be able to keep up. At this point transhumanism will make man a slave to the technology he creates. In the fictitious Deus Ex world, Purity First, an anti-transhumanism group shows us the reality behind Sarif Industries' pitch:
The Purity First video is in the extreme, but once we have replaced our working parts with artificial ones it is very possible that companies will have the power to turn them off or control them. Many transhumanists do not consider that artificial limbs will not work as well as promised in the long term and then the enhanced will forever be beholden to the company that made their augmentation. Even artificial intelligence may be used against the user, altering his or her conscious without consent. I envision this transhumanist utopia as man's ultimate enslavement. The above video depicts just this future.
I want to applaud the behind-the-scenes creators of these make-believe jaunts into the future of human enhancements. They really do understand what is at stake: our humanity. We can use technology to heal and fix what is broken, returning individuals to normal functioning or, we can use it to alter our nature beyond recognition. The former allows us to master technology. Choose the latter and technology will be our master.
Wednesday, December 7. 2011
Brian J. Gail speaks my language. Childless, the third in his American Tragedy in Trilogy, is about, among other things, transhumanism. The last installment of his distinctly Catholic series, is, in my opinion, the best read of the three.
Gail focuses Childless on the coming trials that mankind will have to face before the second coming of Christ. We are all very familiar with the specter of persecution of Catholics at the hands of the state and Gail explores this theme to its bloody conclusion. But Gail also has the wisdom to include transhumanism in his novel. The rich and powerful are not satisfied with natural man and his limitations. They pour billions into research that will create a "posthuman." A human made not in God's image, but in man's arrogant, selfish, and shortsighted image. Gail writes:
He strode purposefully to the podium and settled in behind it. “Genesis 1: God creates man in His image and likeness.” He paused dramatically and swept the room with an undisguised air of triumph. “Genesis 2: Man creates man in his own image and likeness.”I don't want to give too much away but that as transhumanists succeed creating their Homo Evolutis and a time of great death and destruction falls on the earth. This is always the way I have viewed transhumanism. This movement to use technology not to help the sick or injured but to transform man into the "trans" or "post" human is the ultimate affront to our nature. An affront to God's design and ultimately, his image and likeness. Transhumanism is a philosophy that cannot end in anything but human suffering and despair just the eugenics movement, where transhumanism has its origins, ended in the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. A point another great writer you made have heard of, Dean Koontz, makes in the introduction to his series Frankenstein:
"We live in hubristic age, when politicians imagine themselves to be messiahs and when many in the sciences frankly discuss their dreams of creating a “post-human” civilization of genetically engineered supermen, ignorant of the fact that like minds have often come before them and have left no legacy but death, destruction, and despair."Childless is ultimately a cautionary tale about how the errors of the last 50 years will eventually engulf mankind. I highly recommend the entire trilogy for its depiction of the Church as a stronghold of Truth in a sea of relativism that threatens the fabric of our society. From abortion to contraception to transhumanism, Gail touches on them all. If nothing else Childless will certainly inspire you to get on your knees and pray.
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