Transhuman Responses

Natasha Vita-More has guest edited the Metanexus Institute’s “GlobalSpiral.” She’s created a response to a “Special Issue on Transhumanism.” In her intro, she says

There are numerous forbearers of theories on human evolution and traces can be found in a plethora of sources, all suggesting that the biological human is not the final stage of evolution for the Homo sapiens sapiens.  The philosophy and social/cultural movement of transhumanism has developed not only from the words “trans” and “human”, but also through an understanding that the human condition is one in which we might go outside to gain perspective, a process in becoming, an evolutionary transformation:

  • “Trans-human” and the Italian verb “transumanare” or “transumanar” was used for the first time by Dante Alighieri in Divina Commedia.It means “go outside the human condition and perception” and in English could be “to transhumanate” or “to transhumanize”. 
  • T.S. Eliot wrote about the risks of the human journey in becoming illuminated as a “process by which the human is Transhumanised” in “The Cocktail Party”, Complete Poems and Plays: 1909-1950.Julian Huxley wrote about how humans must establish a better environment for themselves, while still remaining man in New Bottles For New Wine, which contains the essay “Transhumanism”.Teilhard de Chardin wrote about intellectual and social evolution and ultra-humanity in The Future of Man.Abraham Maslow referred to transhumans in Toward a Psychology of Being.
  • The Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedia Dictionary defined “transhuman” as meaning “surpassing; transcending; beyond”.The Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defined “transhuman” as meaning “superhuman,” and “transhumanize,” as meaning “to elevate or transform to something beyond what is human”.

Resources for hacking consciousness

Clifford Pickover posted at Twitter the url for a very rich web site rich with resources for exploring consciousness… audio and video from Alan Watts, Terence McKenna, Tim Leary, Huston Smith, Robert Anton Wilson, Daniel Pinchbeck, Alex Grey, our pal Mark Pesce, et al. Quote from RAW:

Intelligence is the capacity to receive, decode and transmit information efficiently. Stupidity is blockage of this process at any point. Bigotry, ideologies etc. block the ability to receive; robotic reality-tunnels block the ability to decode or integrate new signals; censorship blocks transmission.

Also a great quote from Alan Watts:

Inability to accept the mystic experience is more than an intellectual handicap. Lack of awareness of the basic unity of organism and environment is a serious and dangerous hallucination. For in a civilization equipped with immense technological power, the sense of alienation between man and nature leads to the use of technology in a hostile spirit—to the “conquest” of nature instead of intelligent co-operation with nature.

Note that there’s also a Bill Hicks video page.

Shopocalypse now: be mindful

Gary Gach considers how Buddha would approach consumer Christmas: “We should be trying to base contentment on being, rather than having. Then the question of buying that fourth shirt or that new gizmo on display might be dwarfed by the prospect of creating more space in one’s life by donating your extra stuff. When tempted to bite the hook of despair over seeming scarcity in one’s life or in the world, try practicing generosity instead.” He menntion’s Reverent Billy’s motto: “love is a gift economy. Pass it along.”

The Buddha’s critique of mindless craving and needless suffering pinpoints the precise moment during which real pleasure becomes abstract desire – the want to want. In our addictive culture of capitalism, it’s the exact same vital acupressure point that our basic market economy capitalizes on. “Don’t get hooked,” the Buddha says. Remember the hungry ghost, craving more and more of what can never satisfy.

Thoughts about perception and communication

Carnegie Mellon scientists are studying how the brain makes sense of natural scenes using a computational model of visual processing. “The model employs an algorithm that analyzes the myriad patterns that compose natural scenes and statistically characterizes those patterns to determine which patterns are most likely associated with each other.”

The bark of a tree, for instance, is composed of a multitude of different local image patterns, but the computational model can determine that all these local images represent bark and are all part of the same tree, as well as determining that those same patches are not part of a bush in the foreground or the hill behind it.

Whether the theory is exactly correct or not, in thinking about it, I realize that we take understanding and perception quite a bit for granted. Our comprehension of the world is supported by complex internal processes that, like all characteristics of living systems, can vary from one “bundle” (human being) to another. We evolve diverse assumptions about the world based on our diverse interpretations. When we communicate, we generally think we share assumptions about reality, but our assumptions are only similar, and less similar where we have differences that will color perception (culture, language, internal process). Communication is far more difficult than we imagine. How do you communicate more of your substructure, so that the things you write or say are understood because your specific neural context is understood? I studied Irish author James Joyce quite a bit when I was in college, and I recall that, with Finnegans Wake, he created a book that could only be understood if you read what he’d read and could get into his head. He understood that a reader’s experience of a book will differ from the experience the author might have intended, depending on the reader’s background, perception, interpretation, culture… so each reader’s experience of a book is different, and if you’re trying to convey your unique sense of the world as you sensed it, you have to demand that the reader crack your code by following a path similar to the path you followed in reading, thinking, writing.