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Why Immortality?


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#1 Bruce Klein

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Posted 08 September 2002 - 06:07 AM


-- Rough Draft


"Why Immortality?"
By Michael Anissimov



Birth, life, death. For as long as there have been biological replicating machines, these machines have been genetically predestined to one day deteriorate into the same kind of basic organic compounds from which they were originally built. Biologist Richard Dawkins sums up the situation wonderfully with his “selfish genes” metaphor – the genes are what are really in "control" of the “survival machines” they create; we’re just along for the ride. Every single facet of human life and culture arises (albeit in a very complex fashion) from the 750MB of DNA floating in the nucleus of every one of our cells. Relatively recently, scientists and futurists have begun to examine the possibility that we may take control over our own biology and stop or reverse the aging process indefinitely. A growing philosophical contingent that call themselves “immortalists” not only believe in the possibility of curing death, but take an activist stance in spreading these ideas and rallying a War Against Death. Death also particularly bothers immortalists because 150,000 people die every day – deaths which have the potential to be prevented with sufficiently advanced technology. There are altruistic and egoistic motivations behind the quest for immortality.

For a moment, put aside all the political and social baggage attached to the concepts of death and immortality, and let’s examine the initial producer and continued sustainer of death – the evolutionary process.

Ever since the big bang, the emergent result of the laws of physics were creations of progressively more complex, "extropic", and stable patterns in matter. DNA-based organisms represent an advance over the stability of inanimate matter – mountains may stay around for many millions of years, but eventually their form is perturbed by geological disturbances or erosion. DNA molecules, couched snuggly within their continually more adaptive survival machines across the eons, are able to increase their complexity and stability through increasingly rapid methods of replication, mutation, and selection. Although DNA cannot think or willfully increase its own complexity over time, it seems fair to say that the unique DNA molecule found a “computational niche” in the vast phase equation of the universe which allows it to increase its stability and complexity at a much greater rate than the muds from which it emerged. Vast new design spaces and possibilities opened for the arrangement of matter.

Everything went perfectly smooth for DNA for billions upon billions of years, but a few million years ago, a survival machine started to model itself cognitively within the complex connections of its own nervous system, and take actions accordingly. Self-awareness was created.

Since the dawn of sentience, homo sapiens has learned how to use tools and amazing “tricks” to accelerate its own progress outside of the constraints of traditional biological evolution. Technology is created by humans and used to carry out their will; although technology has resulted in setbacks over the centuries, humans generally prefer to play positive sum games so general progress does take place. Technology has begun to permit diminishing investments relative to huge returns in standards of living. Average human lifespan has been increasing linearly and then exponentially in the past 500 years or more.

A lot of outdated memes surround the notion of immortality. Contrary to popular religious views, there’s nothing waiting for us after death. No spiritual or extraphysical world of any sort exists. If your intuitions are that people make up the afterlife as a tool to control others or feel better about their own lives on Earth, you’re correct. The concept of an afterlife is completely contradicted by our observations of reality. Scientific materialism is the best model of the world we have, and we must take action based on those constraints, rather than pretending the constraints aren’t there.

One thing human minds often notice about death: death is almost always morally and emotionally negative, to some person or another. Nonconsensual killing without the approval of the tribe has always been frowned upon, and has been officially considered criminal back to Mosaic Law and before. What percentages of death are voluntary? Not many. If given the opportunity to live forever and the intelligence to effectively solve any difficulties thereof, the vast majority of the human race would propel themselves full throttle towards immortality.

Human minds are potentially much more powerful machines than DNA strands, even though the latter created the former, in the same sense that DNA strands are more powerful machines than rocks. The “higher goals” of the universe in any specific locality (like Earth) seem to be shaped by the most adapted or complicated patterns of matter there at any given time, and in the same way that early life converted the atmosphere into mostly oxygen rather than nitrogen, human beings have already optimized large portions of the planet technologically with constructs that accelerate and improve the flow of information and ideas. The design pressure of intelligence is gaining force, and will inevitably cross paths with and violently contradict the blind programming of nature. Mankind will soon have the will and the means to abolish the evil of death into the indefinite future, navigating itself towards an eternity of glorious life and progress. Help participate in one of the greatest triumphs over the cold, cruel universe that sentient life will ever accomplish!

#2 Guest_solion@attbi.com_*

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Posted 13 September 2002 - 02:44 AM

Why Immortality?...

Well the answer is obvious, In the absence of a god(s) A heaven or hell or anything
spiritual. You must come to the conclusion that there is only one way "You" will continue.

Ultimately it is the culture of acceptance, That has prevailed for the thousands of years that is causing all the problems. Keep in mind that untill recently there were
no choices due to the limitations of technology. there was no other choice than accepting death.

This has been going on for THOUSANDS of years, it has been literally bred into the human psyche that embracing death is embracing somthing that Is "just another part of life".

I often wonder why the people who choose cryonics are so different from the rest of the populous. I choose an analogy to explain it. so bear with me


If you take a mirror and set it in front of baboon, The Baboon wil throw itself against the mirror over and over again. It will attack the mirror as it cannot make the realization that the image it sees is its own reflection. It will continue to do this untill exhausted.

If you take that same mirror and set it infront of a chimpanzee. It will check his teeth , look at places it cannot normally see. and can make the basic relization that the images is a reflection of its self , Self awareness.

Now there is nothing Physcally wrong with the baboon. And there is nothing terribly exceptional about the chimpanzee . Just that no matter how long you try to explain it
the baboon will never ever get it. His mind is not wired to understand it, comprehend it. or even consider it

And I doubt whole heartedly that anyone would dissagree with me when I say this world is most assuredly run by baboons.

Sadly I feel that unless you are exceptional , or brought up in exceptional circumstances that the chance of your "Joe Generic" accepting another alternative
than burned / buried is rather low. You have to have vision. You have to belive that
there is going to be a future. you have to belive in humanity enough to trust that we can have a world without gods hand.

Just my take on it

Lionel

#3 MichaelAnissimov

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Posted 13 September 2002 - 08:50 PM

Well the answer is obvious, In the absence of a god(s) A heaven or hell or anything
spiritual. You must come to the conclusion that there is only one way "You" will continue.


Well, just because immortality is the only way to "preserve" oneself indefinitely doesn't mean that people will necessarily do it...there has to be positive moral and social arguments as well.

Interesting comments, Lionel.

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#4 Bruce Klein

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Posted 13 September 2002 - 10:52 PM

Yes..
Thanks Lionel,
A provocative metaphor to say the least. I agree in total.

#5 caliban

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Posted 27 September 2002 - 01:24 AM

I have trouble finding the category of this post.

- It is not an essay (especially in regard of Johns post on the same topic which is admittedly a very harsh one)
- It is not a forum post, because (to me) it does not raise any new issues or contentious points.
- It is not a pamphlet because it does not have an audience. If you don't want to preach to the choir you cannot use words like "memes" before explaining them first. The reasoning for that is too transhumanist specific, I think.

But it is certainly an eloquent entry.


To Lionel:
As appealing the metaphor might be to some of us, one might it find it very telling that it is a bit false: Gallups chimps (and later other species including elephants) did in most cases not immediately recognize their reflection as such. They had to be taught (by experience) for about 3 days before they did. (Gallup, G.G. Jr (1970) Chimpanzees: self-recognition. Science. 167: 86-87. and many later papers)
Somewhat encouraging eh?

caliban

#6 MichaelAnissimov

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Posted 27 September 2002 - 10:58 PM

I have trouble finding the category of this post.

- It is not an essay (especially in regard of Johns post on the same topic which is admittedly a very harsh one)
- It is not a forum post, because (to me) it does not raise any new issues or contentious points.
- It is not a pamphlet because it does not have an audience. If you don't want to preach to the choir you cannot use words like "memes" before explaining them first. The reasoning for that is too transhumanist specific, I think.


Thanks, I agree with you on these points. A newer version will soon be created which will mostly be along the lines of a pamphlet. I look forward to your criticism on future versions.

#7 chestnut

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Posted 01 October 2002 - 02:18 AM

Michael, I was impressed when we met and am again now. You are always so helpful in making difficult concepts to grasp seem very easy and logical. Your writing is simple to understand and easy to follow. Although you have reached such a high SL understanding and grasp concepts so easy you are always willing to share with others and explain in basic terms. Thank you for reaching out to those who need help ;))

#8 MichaelAnissimov

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Posted 01 October 2002 - 08:45 AM

Thank you very much, Susan! In the past few months I have tried to put more focus on writing introductory-level material; transhumanism deserves to be understood by *everyone*!

#9 bacopa

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 02:26 AM

Michael the problem is that many people can't fathom that we're descended from monkeys. It's hard to except that humans are just a step along the way for evolutionary progress, even though evolution doesn't really progress necessariy it's more indifferent but the point is how to we get people to realise that we have essentially the tools and will necessary to become post-human therefore better than human, and I truly believe that we can control evolution to meet our goal of becoming a truly advanced creature

#10 adering

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Posted 26 October 2003 - 12:32 PM

... the problem is that many people can't fathom that we're descended from monkeys.


This is going to sound silly at first, but part of the problem is in the (shudder) marketing of the idea. Darwinism would go down a lot a more easily, I suspect, if Darwin had called the process Ascent with Modification.

The same problem comes up with the word Theory when used in the scientific sense. "Oooh," says Timmy Pinhead, "It's only a theory." (Waves Bible around) "Well this is the Truth."

See? It's the little details that are gonna hold up progress.

#11 Lazarus Long

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Posted 26 October 2003 - 02:24 PM

We aren't descended from monkeys or ascended from them, we are a talking, tool-making, hairless ape with the socio-psychological problem of self denial.

When you are selling mythological memes, the truth is not what the buyer wants, they want vindication, validation, value reinforcement, and a vision. If this were ever a struggle about truth the issue would be so much easier, it is about self definition and a vision of what we want to be, the establishment of individual wish fulfillment in accord with collective memetic goal orientation.

It's hard to except that humans are just a step along the way for evolutionary progress, even though evolution doesn't really progress necessariy it's more indifferent but the point is how to we get people to realise that we have essentially the tools and will necessary to become post-human therefore better than human, and I truly believe that we can control evolution to meet our goal of becoming a truly advanced creature


Is there such a thing as "evolutionary progress" or is this a "desire," which we are reading into the process of general adaptation/differentiation as it involves convergent and divergent physiological form for specific environmental condition?

Is the "post-human" application of this process essentially one that we are deciding to become the determiners of our own fate? Hence Human Selection?

If we are making this determination to dominate the process for species as a global whole can we maintain "Natural Selection" concurrently for ourselves while we control all environmental conditions which are the a priori determiners for adaptive change?

Also define "advanced" please?


Forget the bible thumpers (not completely since they are a part of the problem). I am trying to point out in numerous places the debate is really about the memetics of "Manifest Destiny" the subconscious perception of "Collective Freedom as Random Selection" and the pragmatic adaptation for the maximization of individual potential with developing option for choice.

#12 adering

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Posted 26 October 2003 - 07:50 PM

We aren't descended from monkeys or ascended from them, we are a talking, tool-making, hairless ape with the socio-psychological problem of self denial.

When you are selling mythological memes, the truth is not what the buyer wants, they want vindication, validation, value reinforcement, and a vision.  If this were ever a struggle about truth the issue would be so much easier, it is about self definition and a vision of what we want to be, the establishment of individual wish fulfillment in accord with collective memetic goal orientation.


You're approaching this from a rational point of view. In the vernacular, preaching to the choir.

When trying to disabuse people of very strongly held, very poorly considered belief systems, the rational approach only works when you can exercise influence over the person in question, and even then, it's a struggle. If you have a child, you can compel the child to listen to you explain why there is no monster in the closet. You can compel the child to watch as you open the closet and show that it was just a couple of sweaters lying on the floor. You can compel the child to stop such nonsense.

With adults, clutching onto whatever fantasy (mythology meme, whatever you want to call it), if you force cognitive dissonance, their reaction will be to flee ('I can't hear you, the devil's in you, etc.') or fight ('No, God won't do miracles on command because it's a faith issue. You wouldn't understand. My pastor told me to not listen to people like you.')

A lot of this reluctance is not because people are particularly stupid. It's because they think they understand what you're saying (compare the science definition of 'theory' with the everyday definition) and their perception, which they don't see as faulty, leads them to conclude that you're the one who's so staggeringly wrong as to be ridiculous. That's why the wording of these things does matter.

To say we're hairless apes that use tools, yes, you're absolutely right. But it's comparable to telling someone (like me) who is scared of heights that there's no way he can fall out the window. All the physics in the world can't do an endrun around the portion of my brain that is screaming at me to get away from that window before it reaches out and yanks me to my death.

And I suggest a modification to "the truth is not what the buyer wants, they want vindication, validation, value reinforcement, and a vision".

The buyer wants whatever is easiest. It is much easier to go into a building, get on your knees, recite some memorized lines, and then leave than it is to learn about science. Science requires thinking, and thinking hurts.

Now, if we could figure out a way to make learning as easy as switching on a television, we'd all be knee dip in gin and escorts!

#13 David

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Posted 31 October 2003 - 10:45 AM

There seems to be a lot of anger towards the religious amongst us on these pages. Is America in some kind of a religious VS science battle at the moment that the rest of us aren't aware of?

We immortality seekers are at the moment part of a minority. The best we can do is plant the seeds in people minds. I have found keeping it simple works best. When they say it can't be done I remind them that space travel, flight and television were impossible not so long ago.

And then I tell them that it's OK to disagree with me! I plant the seed and walk away. Their own minds will supply the water, nutrients and sunshine.

I had no respect for fundamentalists when I was a kid, I don't want to become one, people tend to stop listening to you...

Skinner had the right idea with respect to "learning machines". It IS as easy as switching on the TV. Look at how successful the nature channels are. Positive reinforcement is the go!

Edited by Mind, 31 October 2003 - 03:32 PM.


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#14 Mind

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Posted 31 October 2003 - 03:39 PM

David,

Some people in the US are afraid of religious folks because President Bush is a Christian. They fear he has the power to turn everyone into a fundamentalist religious zealot. They fear he will turn back technology. Most of this is based on the President's bio-ethics council, that has made statements against biotechnology - such as cloning and stem cell research.

While there may be attemps to curb some areas of progress in the next year or two, there is no way Bush or any religious leader is going to stop it. Bush's first concern is national security and national security is inherently connected to scientific progress.

I agree with your approach. I am not offended by religious people. I can live peacefully side-by-side with them. I also plant seeds.




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