Friday, May 29, 2009

Uplift, Why Do it?

One idea that many transhumanists support is the idea of biological uplift, the possible modification of non-human animals so that they become at least as intelligent as humans. The concept was popularized, and named, by David Brin with his Uplift series of novels, where humanity has not only uplifted Dolphins and Chimpanzees but also discovered that almost every sapient species in the galaxy was uplifted by another species. Brin technically wasn't the first one to come up with the concept, H.G. Wells wrote about beasts vivisected to become men in The Island of Doctor Moreau back in the Victorian era (guess how it ended), in addition the hard sci-fi webcomics Freefall and Schlock Mercenary both involve characters that are genetically engineered animals and the Orion's Arm universe includes both provolves (they couldn't use Uplift for legal reasons) and splices. Now there are a number of transhumanists (such as Abolitionists) that think it is our moral duty to improve the quality of all sentient life, which includes most animals not just humans and maybe extraterrestrials.

But what they are not taking into account is whether animals would want to be uplifted, or even if humanity would have a practical reason to uplift others. Aside from attempting to colonize environments that humans couldn't survive in like in Freefall, I don't see much reason why anyone other than the military/police (and maybe Furry fans) would have a use for a talking animal. Maybe someone will think that society could benefit from having different points of view from multiple species or people will start wanting pets that can hold a conversation with them. But if you do think that non-humans should be uplifted to our level, you should consider whether a species would want to be uplifted. In some cases, such as great apes, it might be possible to simply ask a non-uplifted individual (using sign language or a computer) if they would like their kids to be able to talk like humans or be as smart as one. But for most other species it would be very difficult for them to understand the concept of intelligence and language, uplift would effectively create a completely different species so you might as well just uplift at least a few individuals and ask them what they think. So, if you think uplift sounds like a good idea, think it over a little more.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Defense of Suffering, or a Nietzschean Explanation for the Emo Subculture

This past week, abolitionist David Pearce has been guest blogging on Sentient Developments. For those who don't recall my first posts abolitionism is a current of transhumanism that is devoted to eliminating all suffering in sentient organisms. Pearce's posts have suggested going so far as to alter predatory animals so that they can not inflict pain on their food (probably by making them into herbivores). Anyone who's taken Biology in high school knows that an ecosystem with no carnivores or parasites is unsustainable so I will not comment on that here. I am posting to state why I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion that suffering should be eliminated.

In case you haven't read enough of my blog to realise it, I am a fan of the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche, and am probably one of the few transhumanists who admits to it, one of his ideas was the Will to Power, the concept that the most basic instinct of all life was to not only live but to succeed. Related to that concept he speculated that without external challenges for man to strive to overcome, man would turn inwards and become self-destructive. As for his specific ideas on suffering, he didn't state it as so but it can be summed up simply: suffering allows one to appreciate the better parts of life. Which brings me to my hypothesis on the origin of the "emo" subculture, they don't know how good they've got it.

Our general quality of life improves with each generation, it's gotten to the point where many teenagers (who make up the majority of "emos") barely have to do any work outside of school in order to go to college, as opposed to the 19th century when only the upper classes needed that little effort. Without sufficient challenges in life and fairly little suffering to provide perspective they come to feel that their comparatively care-free lives are harsh and cruel, or at least that's what they claim in their ridiculously whiny blogs. Fortunately it's just a stereotype that emo kids cut themselves or commit suicide at a higher than normal rate (and just so you know, the emotional disorders that result in self-cutting and suicide are completely different), but the suicide rate among teenagers is still one of the highest for the Western world. I think that if all high school students were required to spend a week or two living like pre-industrial farmers, the emo subculture would die out in less than a generation.

Abolitionists want to engineer humans and other animals so that they can no longer suffer, they would also have to completely remove the Will to Power for this to work. To me this seems like it would result in what Nietzsche called the Last Man, a weak-willed individual who takes no risks and seeks nothing more than comfort and security, not to mention being incredibly lazy. In order for a society to be able to move forward at least some members of a society would need to retain the Will to Power or some equivalent drive, these Uebermensch need not necessarily be human, they would more likely be posthumans or super intelligent AI (I suspect that this is the role that the Minds in Iain M. Bank's The Culture stories fulfill). I would prefer that all members of society retain their drives to succeed, as it would make life a little more interesting if anyone could at least try to become the leader.