Tag Archives: philosophy

Looking back on Cyborg Month

When Tim Maly invited me to contribute to the 50 Posts About Cyborgs project, I had a nagging suspicion that I’d have a run-in with impostor syndrome… and I was right. The nearly complete run of posts (49 of them linked from the Tumblr above as I type this) contains some of the smartest and most brain-expanding material I’ve read in a long, long time, from some incredibly erudite writers and thinkers. If you have any interest whatsoever in the post-modern human condition in a technology-saturated world, in where we came from as a species and where we’re going, or in what being (post?)human actually means, then there’ll be something there for you to enjoy – so go read.

And many thanks Tim for inviting me to take part; I’m one proud impostor. 🙂

The (intellectual) hero’s journey: science/Tarot mash-up

Way to push a bunch of my geek-buttons at once: mapping Joseph Campbell’s ur-story of the hero’s journey onto the scientific method and philosophy, via the rich and deep symbolic interface of the Tarot deck [via Metafilter; more card images on the Science Tarot Facebook page].

Not sure how practical it would be (for science or for cartomancy – though as a po-mo method of storying science I think it’s a rather brilliant idea), nor whether some of the scientists portrayed would be particularly keen on the idea (can’t see ol’ Carl Sagan giving the thumbs-up to a grafting of occultism onto the tree of science, really), but for someone like myself who spent a great deal of time immersed in the symbolic structures of occultism and science at the same time, it’s a rather charming synthesis, not to mention one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments.

Friday philosophy: mind/body dualism

Thinking caps on, folks. Using a science fictional premise as a framing device, philosopher Daniel Dennett ponders the question “if your mind and body were separated, which one would be ‘you’?” [via MetaFilter]

“Yorick,” I said aloud to my brain, “you are my brain.  The rest of my body, seated in this chair, I dub ‘Hamlet.’”  So here we all are:  Yorick’s my brain, Hamlet’s my body, and I am Dennett.  Now, where am I?  And when I think “where am I?”, where’s that thought tokened?  Is it tokened in my brain, lounging about in the vat, or right here between my ears where it seems to be tokened?  Or nowhere?  Its temporal coordinates give me no trouble; must it not have spatial coordinates as well?  I began making a list of the alternatives.

It’s a seventies-vintage essay, so the frame plot is a bit hokey, but the philosophical conundrum still packs a mean punch. Don’t read it if you’ve got anything complicated you’re meant to think about for the rest of the day. 🙂

It’s a shame about Ray: Kurzweil not the only star in the Singularitarian firmament

George Dvorsky continues to take advantage of the recent famous-on-the-internet profile of the Kurzweil/Myers beef to bring lesser-discussed aspects of Singularitarianism to the fore… and as someone with an active interest in the movement (not to mention as a science fiction reader), I think that’s a worthwhile thing to do. Like I’ve said before, as way-out as it may still seem to a lot of people, the Singularity is an important concept in our wired world, even if viewed only with the utmost cynicism as a form of eschatological philosophy or techno-cult (which I think is to sell it more than a little short).

So here’s Dvorsky’s non-comprehensive list of notable Singularitarian thinkerswhich includes one well-known sf writer, Vernor Vinge, and one person (that I know of, at least) who has been tuckerized as a posthuman ‘species’ in science fiction literature: Hans Moravec, who gave his name to the moravecs of Dan Simmons’ Ilium, an excellent (if challenging and very hefty) novel.

Dvorsky invites suggestions of other thinkers worthy of attention in the fields of Singularity thinking and artificial intelligence, and I’ll extend the same invitation – feel free to include critics and naysayers, provided they tackle the issues with rigour.

And while we’re on the subject, you may or may not already know that PZ Myers has been called in for some serious heart surgery. Just in case it wasn’t already plain: despite not necessarily agreeing with him on matters recently discussed (and sniping at the tone taken), I bear the man no malice, and wish him a speedy recovery. Best of luck, Professor Myers.

Immortality might not be boring after all

Via George Dvorsky, ethicist Alexandre Erler has a rejoinder for me, and for others who believe that immortality might become boring.

Here it should be stressed that even though some people might find the human lifespan that characterizes today’s developed countries optimal, and even though they might feel that any additional years they might gain would quickly become boring and would decrease their sense of the value of their life as a whole, this clearly isn’t everyone’s perception of things. Some people have creative powers, a range of projects, and a thirst for knowledge and pleasure that make their current life expectancy seem extremely limiting.

(Kinda where we were going while biting back at Paul Carr’s “deathhackers” diatribe the other day. The prospect of being able to get more things done certainly appeals, but right now I’d prefer an effective mechanism for suppressing the need to sleep eight hours in every twenty four.)

As for those who might share Walsh’s view and enjoy their life more due to the awareness of their own mortality, they might still preserve that benefit by committing themselves not to use life extension technologies when these become widely available. Of course, when the time to kick the bucket seemed near, they might find themselves unable to respect their previous commitment. But they might perhaps protect themselves from such a hazard by writing advance directives stipulating that life extension procedures should not be made available to them.

In other words, “if it bothers you so much, opt out publicly”. Seems fair enough to me.

But I wonder if immortality (or even a significant increase in longevity) still looks possible in a world without antibiotics? For those rich enough to quarantine themselves away from myriad virulent microbial nasties in the general populace, probably so… and they’re the folk who’ll get access to longevity treatments first.