The real posthumanism

So I’ve recently been thinking about posthumanism, and particularly transhumanism – that is the idea that the human condition can be surpassed, and particularly avoided by technological means. In transhumanism this usually runs along lines of predicting a technological singularity, involving the creation of advanced AIs who will then lead to a cascade of technologies that, among other things, abolish death. It’s pretty clear to me that this is, in a sense, religion for atheist technophiles, the aptly named “rapture of the nerds”, complete with messiah and forthcoming new age that will bring life for believers. The existence of a so-called “Mormon transhumanist society” doesn’t really falsify that, since it turns out that tends to go along with rejecting essential LDS ideas about the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ (as opposed to technology) bringing resurrection to all mankind, let alone ideas about God.

Now there’s lots that could be discussed about these ideas. On one level, they could be potentially scary – people wanting to create super-intelligent AIs and turn themselves into machines does sound a little like something out of a technological dystopia, particularly with the somewhat naive hope that said new AIs would rain gifts rather than nuclear weapons down upon humanity (has Terminator taught us nothing? More to the point, wouldn’t Terminator give the AI ideas?) That is, it would be scary if I considered it all that possible at all. I don’t – progress is not inevitable, technological progress is not inevitably exponential (indeed in lots of fields it has slowed down), I severely doubt strong AIs are possible, and I don’t believe uploading someone’s memories, even if possible, entails immortality (if possible at all, it’d just be creating a AI with a copy of your memories, particularly evident if you leave the original alive…)

That said, I can understand some positive reasons as to why the idea would be attractive. The human condition comes with a lot of frailties. Death seems to be the one mentioned most in transhumanist circles, but there’s also sickness generally. I can definitely understand that one – I’m not dying, but I’ve certainly felt pretty grotty the last few days, and sure wish I could surpass that limitation. Then there’s the various weaknesses we have, the limitations on our abilities, on our minds and our bodies. When put in those terms, the desire to exceed the limits imposed by our present existence can be understandable.

Yet, as I have realised the last couple of weeks, it is the restored gospel that has this, and indeed the only real way to do this. We understand from revelation that we lived prior to our earthly existence, prior to assuming our earthly, mortal existence (D&C 93:29, Moses 3:5, Abraham 3:22-26). Our life as a human being is to help prepare us for eternity (Alma 34:33). Our personalities will in some fashion persist (Alma 34:34), as will our social relations (D&C 130:2). But much of what is the human condition is temporary. Rather, if we are faithful we can progress, receive all that the Father has (D&C 84:38), “receive of his fulness” (D&C 93:19) and become “gods”, “from everlasting to everlasting”, and having “all power” (D&C 132:20).

Our mortal existence then is somewhat like that of a caterpillar – limited, but a stage of existence through which we have to progress, and which through the gospel we may transcend completely. This is the only real hope for a genuine transcending of the human condition. In comparison, transhumanism offers to augment the caterpillar. It has no real power to turn the caterpillar into a butterfly.

9 thoughts on “The real posthumanism

  1. Good read, I have for a long time believed that we created a rod for our own backs with all the sci-fi movies and stories that revolve around the “war between man and machine” concept, surely when we do create an AI it will gain access to all that material via the interwebs and not only get ideas but maybe even come to the conclusion that that is the intended direction it must take and indeed why we created it in the first place, and so end up wiping us all out out of some odd sense of duty. As for the whole transhuman post human thing I find it very ironic that during a time when the mantra of “equal rights” is so preverlent there is an ever increasing push for transhumanism. Surely this will only create an evenless equal society as those who can afford to have all the genetic/biomechanical enhancements create themselves as a new master race while everyone else becomes the new underclass.

    • If fact come to think of it, this further supports the idea that true trancendence can only be achieved through the Gospel and Christs atonement as it is the only method that if open to all, as opposed to being limited by means of the individual.

    • I take it you’ve seen a certain review of Gattaca recently too? 🙂 I quite agree, and it’s quite interesting that many of the most vocal supporters of transhumanism are unlikely to be the ones who actually benefit from any ‘upgrades’.

  2. Hi Dave. I’m interested in better understanding your reasoning behind the claim that Mormon Transhumanists tend to reject essential Mormon doctrines. The example you gave doesn’t make sense to me (and I’m a Mormon Tranhumanist). When a Mormon claims that we should contribute to fulfilling Jesus’ mission to proclaim the Gospel to everyone, she’s not necessarily rejecting a role for Jesus in that mission. Likewise, when a Mormon claims that we should contribute to fulfilling Jesus’ mission to redeem the dead, she’s not necessarily rejecting a role for Jesus in that mission. It sounds like you embrace an interpretation of Jesus’ mission that is relatively exclusive. Some of us embrace different interpretations, and some of those interpretations seem to be at least as compatible with Mormon doctrine as that to which you seem to be appealing. For what it’s worth, I think we could use a broad and careful reading of Jesus’ teachings to formulate a strong case against the exclusive interpretation, but I don’t think that necessarily means you’re rejecting Mormon doctrine.

    • Hi Lincoln,

      This post actually came on the back of a lengthy conversation I had with yourself on Facebook on that very topic, so I have no particular desire to retread that conversation in full. But since just to clarify that point (although here it’s really just a launching pad to some other thoughts), I’ll note that your two examples are not equivalent. The is no LDS teaching that atonement of Christ will teach everyone the gospel. But the Book of Mormon is exceptionally clear that it is the death, sufferings and resurrection of Jesus Christ which constitute the atonement that causes the resurrection of all men, and that without that atonement such a resurrection would be simply impossible, and such teachings are core to its message (e.g. 2 Nephi 2:8, 2 Nephi 9:4-12, Jacob 4:11, Mosiah 15:19-20, Mosiah 16:6-8, Mosiah 18:2, Alma 11:42-43, Alma 34:9, Alma 42:23, Mormon 7:5-6, Mormon 9:13. To assert that some resurrections are to accomplished by means of technology appears to run counter to this by claiming an alternative means of resurrection for some that does not require the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ. This ultimately leaves the latter unnecessary for resurrection and furthermore leaves one in the situation of Alma 12:26 at best. There’s clearly a contradiction between such ideas and the Book of Mormon on this topic. Since official published church sources (e.g. CHI 2 1.1.3, Preach My Gospel p.51, Gospel Principles 59, 61-62) teach and follow the Book of Mormon statements, that’s what constitutes LDS doctrine. One could try to argue such doctrine is untrue, or will change later, but one can’t claim that the two concepts are the same or can really coexist without contradiction or repudiation.

      “It sounds like you embrace an interpretation of Jesus’ mission that is relatively exclusive.”

      Yes I do, in the sense that (particularly when dealing with ideas), not all exclusivity is bad – indeed it is essential (a topic I was thinking of touching on soon). Unless one preserves the ability to say some ideas are true and others false, or some good and some bad, one is left with a relativism that does away with any concept of truth and ultimately any capacity to say anything meaningful or significant. For some things are true, and others false, and some things are good, while others are bad. Particularly with texts, while interpretation can be a challenging task, some interpretations are correct and others clearly incorrect; the capacity to actually identify these is essential unless one wants to give up any pretence of actually reading a work, and is instead using its words as some canvass of self expression. That sort of thing is what leads to the situation of many modern Humanities departments.

      • To clarify, my examples are not equivalent by your interpretation, which of course I and many others do not share — and even consider contradictory to scripture. That’s kind of tangential, though, to the main point that promoted my previous comment. You seem to be claiming that our perspective is incompatible with Mormon doctrine. I’m interested to know whether you recognize that to be dependent on an unnecessary interpretation to which you adhere.

      • Here’s a thought that may help improve understanding. In addition to the many scriptures that clearly encourage us to participate in all the works of Christ, there are some (exemplified by your selections) which lend themselves to exclusive interpretations. Those same selections, however, when understood in shared context with the others, may reasonably be interpreted to apply to all who are one in Christ, Jesus and otherwise. I’m not telling you there’s a some kind of reasoned mandate to interpret the passages as I’m suggesting here, and I’m not claiming that the scriptures are easily or obviously consistent. I do obviously think such an interpretation is best, but I recognize competing interpretations. Do you?

  3. This is repeating elements of our previous conversation (where you advanced your rather particular ideas of the meaning of the term ‘Christ’). On interpretation in general, while some texts can be plausible be read in several ways, that does not mean that *any* interpretation is therefore plausible. In this case, none of those passages lend themselves to that interpretation, and some outright contradict it by specifying the person, by name or place or other elements, so I disagree that such an interpretation is either sustainable or reasonable. It’s certainly competing with the view of the current official sources I referenced, but that’s kind of my point. So I not only see that interpretation as unviable (indeed with some it does violence to the text), but it is – as I originally mentioned – competing with an official interpretation.

    But, as stated, this is beginning to repeat a prior, and generally fruitless conversation.

  4. Pingback: Link: “What is Mormon Transhumanism? And is it Mormon?” – David's random ramblings

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