On disembodiment

soul-body

“Mind uploading” is a staple of modern futurology. We spend so much time in front of the screens already… why not extrapolate the trend? (Extrapolations: Definitely the Best Bang for Your Buck when you’re shopping for predictions! Just check out London’s horse manure problem.)

More to the point, who wouldn’t want to get rid of this ugly contraption called human body with its nasty diseases and nasty desires? To think of the freedom — the speed — the invincibility you’ll enjoy when you’re nothing but a bunch of logical states, totally independent of the underlying hardware!

Put this way, the inspiration (as so many other futurist and transhumanist inspirations) does sound quite a bit religious. Achieve the Disembodiment: lead an angelic life up in the digital heavens, leave the dust of this sinful world behind you.

I’m not saying this will never happen… or at least be attempted. Religion-tinted motivations are bound to remain a powerful force for a long long time. Besides, simply by their sheer number humans tend to exhaust the space of current possibilities, even if some routes remain relatively neglected.

Body-shedding may, one day, become a major trend — an exodus. But let me have my doubts about that.

First of all, before we seriously discuss getting rid of the body, how about we fix the most glaring problems with the body we’ve inherited?

Make it a body that doesn’t get ill and doesn’t die, a body that cures any senescence as easily and as tracelessly as it cures a day’s weariness by a night’s sleep. Make it a body that stays permanently beautiful and attractive to other human beings: we people depend on that a lot more than we’d like to admit. Even better, make the human body as flexible and expressive as is language, so we can morph — copyedit — ourselves and each other in the never-ending quest for new beauty.

In a word, let’s work fully implement our idea of the human body before we decide whether we need it or not.

About this perfect-body revolution I’m a good deal more optimistic than about the no-body revolution of Mind Uploading — simply because, however imperfect, our understanding of how our body works is already more advanced than our understanding of how our mind works.

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Future

About the only thing you can safely say about the future is:

They won’t care about things we care about.

Naturally, they will care about something else. Something we may well have around already but do not care sufficiently about, yet. Something we don’t even notice, perhaps.

Caring about something always expires. Interest gets saturated and dies off. If it doesn’t, it’s not interest, it’s something else. And without interest, there’s no intelligence. Without intelligence, there’s no future.

(And need I mention that there’s no such thing as superintelligence?)

Of course you can say that they will still care about all the same stuff as we do, only call and depict and experience it differently. Please be my guest. I’m not going to argue beyond pointing out that the very essence of intelligence is the how, not what. Bare what is just not interesting. Make a good enough — and new enough — how and you’re pretty much looking at a new what.

Going out on a limb, I would also hypothesize that in the future, the things we now deeply care about will probably not disappear completely. Instead, they will slid down on the age scale to become children’s play. Assuming children of the future will undergo some kind of growth and development, they may pass “us” as a stage. Just as our own children now pass, and grow out of, the stages of totem animals, princes, or pirates — all of which were extremely serious matters for adults at some point in the past. So, if you want to imagine the future, try a world where (something reminiscent of) our politics, commerce, even science, even sex are but development stages on the path to adulthood.

Naked books

Book covers are cheating. They may be art in their own right — but what you get when you get a book is its text, not cover.

That’s why the only meaningful way to browse for new books is to open them randomly and read a page. Ideally, without even looking at the cover.

Which is what this site gives you.

And it now has Everday, too.

Should philosophy try to prove its claims?

Unlike art, philosophy does make truth claims.

Unlike science, philosophy’s truth claims are not judged by experiments. Instead, they are assessed on their overall persuasiveness (see my essay for more on that). On their ability to stick in the mind, to stimulate, to breed related claims.

Philosophies are mental constructs (I don’t like the word “memes”) that undergo evolution (there is inheritance, mutation, and selection) with the aim to best satisfy our minds’ craving to know how things really are. For a variety of reasons, science is unable to fully satisfy these cravings, so philosophy continues to exist.

But minds themselves evolve, so philosophy has to adapt to a quickly shifting landscape. It is therefor quite understandable that many philosophers borrow from science its approach to proving things, simply because science is so prominent nowadays. Sometimes, it helps their philosophies be more persuasive, but sometimes it backfires: a “rigorous” math-like proof applied to claims that are obviously unverifiable to begin with may sound off-putting — a travesty. Not everyone likes analytical philosophy, and I think this is one of the reasons why.

So what are we to do? (third, and hopefully final, political aside)

For a long long time, the uneducated classes more or less accepted what the educated — “talking” — classes were saying. They could grumble or jeer but they had little reasons to doubt, let alone reject. The educateds could basically ignore anyone except other educateds because the silent class remained silent.

That’s not the case anymore. The silent class are now talking in between themselves — full steam. They have their own news, entertainment, even science. It’s not that they are totally ignoring what the talking class is saying but they now have a choice, including the choice of getting educated (in the traditional sense) or not.

In this new landscape of choice, forcing or shaming no longer work. People now have where to retreat when they feel they’re being pushed on. They have where to go and who to get encouragement from. “They” are no longer aspiring to become “us”.

(And they, increasingly, are trying to push back. Can the world go on as before now that more and more positions of power and authority are taken by people from this alternate reality? Will it crash and burn or will it adapt? The next four years in the US will give us a glimpse.)

All I’m saying is that if “we” want to win, we must stop fighting. It’s not a battlefield. If we are the smart class, the only way we can win is by becoming smarter. We have to learn to model people — to feel the way they feel. We have to learn to be them and look through their eyes, without losing what makes us us.

And you know what? It’s not only that this is the smart way: it’s the easy way. Bashing uneducated people for being lazy achieves nothing: it just makes you both bitter. But if you approach them as a fellow human, if you’re listening and thinking with them, you will discover that what separates you two is often amazingly shallow. Just a change of tone, just a different order of arguments, just using a different synonym here and there may often make all the difference when you’re trying to persuade.

Little tweaks go a long way… it’s only that finding the right tweak is so hard. Obama was able to win, in part, because he has a natural talent for choosing the right tone and words. Too bad this talent is so rare. But what is all our science, our smarts, our rationalism worth if we’re unable to reliably master this skill — now that (literally) the fate of the world depends on it?

The two baskets (another political aside)

Let’s take a very blurred view at the world. A sort-it-all-into-two-baskets kind of view.

First we have the sad basket. People are really acting weird lately. Need I go into details? Madness, madness everywhere. Sane rational people seem to be on defense and losing.

Not just by being outnumbered, mind you. The very assumptions of the sane rational people are being aggressively uprooted. “Trump won” is not the worst part; the worst part is how the sane rational people were so sure he would not win. “We,” so used to being right, suddenly found ourselves in the wrong. “They,” the very embodiment of ignoring reality and general absurdity, somehow, infuriatingly, ended up more right than us.

Fear, uncertainty, doubt. (Remember that phrase?)

But then there is the other basket: the fun basket, the wow basket, the (mostly) technology basket. All at about the same time, several big things that were kind of good ideas stopped being just good ideas and started actually moving — in a big way. Solar and wind are taking off. Electric and then self-driving cars are taking off. 3D printing is not quite taking off but may be close. And AI in general is really, finally, unbelievably, taking off.

“Coincidence? I don’t think so.”

Rational people seem to have solved things. Kudos for them! Now, if they want to go on with their fun without further nasty interruptions, they urgently, desperately need to solve other people.

Like, figure them out. Grok them. Understand them.

Otherwise the fun basket may well end up drowning in the sad basket.

Hint: rationalism is warm and cuddly, but it may not be the best tool for the job (more on that later).

Guaranteed income (a political aside)

Progressives seem to be flocking towards the idea of guaranteed income. It’s understandable, especially in view of the recent events in the US. Whatever those crazies want, they certainly wouldn’t say no to free money – who would? And that would hopefully soothe the beast – close the gap, quiet the discontent, prevent outright calamities. In short, it’s something that would let us go on with our interesting lives without the nasty surprises like this election thing.

It just looks like so fair a solution, so well-rounded, so failure-prone. Costly, yeah, but aren’t we automating the hell out of the economy already? It’s going to be peanuts.

What most progressives utterly fail to understand is how the idea of guaranteed income can, to some people, be deeply offensive. How it can enrage the beast instead of soothing. I hate to be a doomsayer but we’re in for more nasty surprises until we learn to talk to people and hear what they’re saying, instead of throwing money at them. (Well, we should throw money anyway, too, but talking comes first. Without it, money is useless.)

With all that, myself I am very supportive of the idea of guaranteed income. It’s a good first step towards the moneyless will-based economy of Everday.