Engineering Transcendence: Addendum from 2011

In 2004 I wrote an essay on “Engineering Transcendence” [Prisco2004], published it on several websites, and sent it to several mailing lists. The essay may be included in a soon to be published anthology of transhumanist writings. Of course a lot has happened since 2004, and the essay needs clarifications and updates. Instead of writing a revised version, I prefer to leave the original intact, with this Addendum as a complement. The content of this Addendum is similar to my recently published interview with Ben Goertzel [Goertzel2011] (same topic, very close in time), but not identical.

In “Engineering Transcendence” I argued that science may someday develop the capability to resurrect the dead and build (and/or become) God(s), and proposed to base a “transhumanist religion” on this idea.

I also argued that the ultra-rationalist, aseptic engineering language dear to most transhumanists does not seem able to have an emotional impact on the majority of other people. This means that “traditional” transhumanist ideas will remain confined to a very small minority of technically oriented nerds, and never make a difference to the rest of people.

Which is a pity, because I think our ideas are beautiful and could give happiness, hope, sense of wonder, sense of purpose and peace of mind to multitudes of seekers. To do this, we must develop formulations and interpretations of transhumanism more emotionally appealing to persons with artistic and spiritual inclinations.

The “transhumanist religion” is addressed at persons with spiritual sensibilities and needs.  It is designed to appeal to their sensibilities, and fulfill their needs, while at the same time remaining firmly grounded in the scientific worldview. Instead of “their”, I should of course say “our”: I am a person with spiritual sensibilities and needs. At the same time I am a physicist and an engineer by training and by inclination, and my worldview is strictly materialist, with no room for the supernatural.

I have been a member of the Extropy mailing list since the late 90s. Ever since, the Extropy list has been one of my main sources of intellectual stimulation and fun. I was already interpreting transhumanism (also) in a spiritual sense at that time, and I remember thinking of Extropy as a beautiful and powerful new religion for the new millennium. I also remember my very first post to the Extropy list, about the possibility of technological resurrection of the dead, and some encouraging replies.

“Engineering Transcendence” was not received enthusiastically by most transhumanists, but it was received with interest by some transhumanists and some spiritually minded people. Over the years I have continued to write about these things, I have refined my own thinking, and I have enjoyed the ongoing discussion, online and face to face, with a small but growing  group of like minded persons.

The cornerstones of this transhumanist religion are:

Mind uploading — someday it will be possible to transfer entire personalities from their original biological brain to more durable and powerful engineered substrates. See my interview with Natasha Vita-More [Vita-More2010] for more thoughts and links.

Time scanning — someday it will be possible to acquire very detailed information from the past. Once time scanning is available, we will be able to resurrect people from the past by “copying them to the future” via mind uploading. Note: time scanning is not time travel, and it is free from the “paradoxes” of time travel. Time scanning is just a form of archaeology — uncovering the past by means of available evidence and records. Of course the very high definition form of time scanning proposed here is orders of magnitude more powerful and sophisticated than archeology as we know it, but the concept is the same.

Synthetic realities — someday it will be possible to build artificial realities inhabited by sentient life. Perhaps future humans will live in synthetic realities, and perhaps we will wake up in a synthetic reality after having been copied to the future. Or… perhaps we are already there.

This transhumanist religion offers not only one, but two possibilities of resurrection: We may be copied to the future by future civilizations using resurrection archaeology and mind uploading. Or, we may be already living in a synthetic reality and the system admins may make a backup copy of interesting patterns every now and then. Hope in resurrection is, I believe, a necessary component of any effective alternative to traditional religions.

I am the first to admit that this is a mythology and not a scientific theory. But, I believe, it is a mythology compatible with rationality and the scientific worldview. Modern science says that reality, at a fundamental level, is much weirder than our simple intuitive models, and lets us glimpse at vague and veiled shadows of wonderful things in heaven and earth. If anything, I am persuaded that reality may much weirder than mythology.

Many transhumanists with a ultra-rationalist approach have a very hard time considering parallels between transhumanism and religion. This is evident from the frequent discussions on mailing lists, blogs and Facebook threads. They don’t reply to arguments, never say things like “you are wrong because this thing that you just said goes against scientific fact”, but take refuge in “you are wrong because this thing that you just said sounds like religion”, which is not an argument. Of course, I can understand them: mistaken interpretation of religion have done great harm to many people, and I suspect most of them had a harmful religious upbringing and are so scared of getting close to religion again that they become blind to the good aspects of religion. But good interpretations of religion have done great good to many people, and following William James [James1896] I think a modern transhumanist religion, with religion’s contemplation of transcendence and hope in personal resurrection but without its bigotry and intolerance, can be a powerful positive force in the life of a person, which is what really matters.

I often call this transhumanist mythology “The Turing Church”, to emphasize the key role of substrate-independent mentality. The Turing Church is not an organization, but a meta-organization, mailing list and online meeting point for spiritually oriented transhumanists. The Turing Church’s mythology does not make a great difference in practice: we still live in a difficult and dangerous world, cancer still kills, we still age and die, there are still wars and atrocities, and billions of persons are still hungry, powerless, sick and unhappy. But contemplating the cosmic visions of the Turing Church gives me a sense of wonder and a sense of hope in a beautiful future… if only we can build it. It also gives me more motivation, energy and drive to try to give a little contribution to making our world a better place.

After writing “Engineering Transcendence” I have become part of a small but growing  community of like minded persons. I have taken the role of organizer of meetings in virtual reality spaces, first in Second Life and then in other next generation metaverses, and I have organized and participated in the organization of many virtual talks and conferences focused on transhumanist spirituality. The most recent has been the Turing Church Online Workshop 1 [TuringChurch2010].

I have also joined three organizations focused on transhumanist siprituality:  the Society for Universal Immortalism, the Mormon Transhumanist Association, and Terasem.

The Society for Universal Immortalism, already described in the original article, is a beautiful religion of hope and happiness, inspired by Mike Perry’s masterpiece “Forever for All” [Perry2000], now available in full text on the Terasem website of Fred and Linda Chamberlain. The Universal Immortalist program “we dedicate ourselves to finding a way one day to bringing back all persons that have ever lived, so that they can join us in our eternal adventure” says it all, but the Society has not been able to attract many members and supporters, perhaps because having a cryonic suspension contract has been a pre-requisite for membership until recently. Also, the Society has always kept a very low profile, very (perhaps too) reasonable and soft-spoken, like those persons who are often right but nobody listens to because they don’t speak loud enough. Well… I recently had the honor of being elected as President of the Society, and I will try to do something to change that.

Though not a Mormon, I am an active member of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, which is one of the best and most active transhumanist communities. MTA members are only supposed to accept the Transhumanist Declaration and the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation, and the New God Argument resonates deeply with my own thinking. Lincoln Cannon and other MTA members claim that their transhumanist interpretation is perfectly compatible with standard Mormon doctrine, which includes theosis (Man can and should become like God, and God was once limited like Man). I doubt that a majority of Mormons would agree with this position, but the MTA actively promotes transhumanism in the mainstream Mormon community, and is the best and most successful transhumanist group established within a major religion. I think both the strength and the weakness of the MTA is in its integration in the Mormon community: the MTA is in a very good position to promote transhumanism in Mormon circles, but I doubt it will ever attract many non Mormons. I look forward to seeing other successful transhumanist groups within major religions but perhaps, as Lincoln says, Mormonism is an especially fertile ground.

Last October I had the honor to give a (remote) talk at the Transhumanism and Spirituality Conference in Salt Lake City, organized by the MTA. The talk was inspired by my article “In Whom we live, move, and have our being” [Prisco2010], and the slides of my presentation are available online [Prisco2010a]. Recently, a great dialogue between Ben Goertzel and Lincoln Cannon, titled “Mormonism: The Most Transhumanist Religion?” [Goertzel2011a],  has been published on H+ Magazine. Read it for some really fascinating insight on Mormonism, transhumanism, spirituality, and religion.

Both the SfUI and the MTA have central, “official” websites. On the contrary Martine Rothblatt’s Terasem, “A Transreligion for Technological Times”, has a more distributed and almost chaotic online presence [Rothblatt2010]. At this moment the most active Terasem website is the “Truths of Terasem Podcasts” blog maintained by Fred and Linda Chamberlain, but by the time you read this another Terasem website may have taken the lead. In the blog Fred and Linda (who are, among other things, the two founders of Alcor) explain and comment the concise and almost hermetic foundational text “The Truths of Terasem” [Terasem2002]. See [Chamberlain2010] and [TuringChurch2010] for a fascinating first person account of the “cosmic download” of Terasem into Martine Rothblatt’s mind.

I have been associated with Terasem for a few years, and recently I have formally joined.  I think the nice and warm New Age look/feel of Terasem is our best chance to build bridges to the very large, scattered communities of spiritually oriented persons. Terasem offers a formulation and interpretation of transhumanism more emotionally appealing to persons with artistic and spiritual inclinations, which will help communicating our beautiful ideas in a simple and effective format and give happiness, hope, sense of wonder, sense of purpose and peace of mind to multitudes of seekers.

Ultra-rationalist “bureaucrats of philosophy” usually dismiss “hippie New Age attitudes”, but we should not forget that the hippie New Age attitude of the 60s shaped the Internet technology revolution [RUSirius2006]. Perhaps we had the right attitude in the beautiful, visionary anti-authoritarian 60s, and we should recover it somehow. My experience with New Agers is that, yes, they are easily deluded or scammed, yes, they move from a guru to a new guru and from crystals to pyramids, but they are intellectually and spiritually alive persons, perhaps more alive and awake than others, who are seeking something beautiful that they cannot define. I look forward to Terasem bridging the gap between the 60s and the 10s, cosmic visions and technology, spirituality and transhumanism.

All three groups mentioned above affirm the possibility of technological resurrection, the MTA and the SfUI very openly. We can find it also in the Truths of Terasem, for example in: “Souls of our ancestors come back to life when we emulate their lives and their environment.” [Terasem2002]. In his great Cosmist Manifesto [Goertzel2010], Ben Goertzel endorses the possibility of technological resurrection by including the Ten Cosmist Conviction which we have co-authored, in particular “Spacetime engineering and future magic will permit achieving, by scientific means, most of the promises of religions — and many amazing things that no human religion ever dreamed. Eventually we will be able to resurrect the dead by ‘copying them to the future’” and more subtly in other passages. I had fascinating discussions with Ben and many others on specific technologies for resurrection (Perhaps there are micro wormholes permeating the fabric of spacetime and connecting eack spacetime pixel with every other spacetime pixel, which could be used for time scanning? Perhaps quantum entanglement across time? Perhaps something else?), but probably we cannot even begin to imagine a detailed solution. My answer to “Do you believe in an afterlife?” (a recent Facebook poll) is very simple: Time will tell.

References

Chamberlain2010 – Podcast No. 22 on The Truths of Terasem, http://truthsofterasem.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/podcast-no-22-posted-on-itunes-12272010/

Goertzel2010 – Ben Goertzel, A Cosmist Manifesto, http://cosmistmanifesto.blogspot.com/

Goertzel2011 – Ben Goertzel, Technological Transcendence: An Interview with Giulio Prisco, http://hplusmagazine.com/2011/02/08/technological-transcendence-an-interview-with-giulio-prisco/

Goertzel2011a – Ben Goertzel, Mormonism: The Most Transhumanist Religion?, http://hplusmagazine.com/2011/05/09/mormonism-the-most-transhumanist-religion/

James1896 –  William James, The Will to Believe, http://educ.jmu.edu//~omearawm/ph101willtobelieve.html

Perry2000 – R. Michael Perry, Forever For All, http://truthsofterasem.wordpress.com/forever-for-all/

Prisco2004 – Giulio Prisco, Engineering Transcendence, http://giulioprisco.blogspot.com/2006/12/engineeringtranscendence.html

Prisco2010 – Giulio Prisco, In Whom we live, move, and have our being, http://giulioprisco.blogspot.com/2010/03/in-whom-we-live-move-and-have-our-being.html

Prisco2010a – Giulio Prisco, The Cosmic Visions of the Turing Church, http://giulioprisco.blogspot.com/2010/10/cosmic-visions-of-turing-church.html

Rothblatt2010 – Martine Rothblatt on Reconstructing Minds from Software Mindfiles, Teleplace, September 18, http://telexlr8.wordpress.com/2010/09/18/martine-rothblatt-on-reconstructing-minds-from-software-mindfiles-teleplace-september-18/

R.U. Sirius2006 – How the Sixties Shaped the Personal Computer Revolution, in True Mutations, http://boingboing.net/2007/02/13/ru_sirius_true_mutat.html

Terasem2002 – The Truths of Terasem, http://terasemfaith.net/beliefs

TuringChurch2010 – Turing Church Online Workshop 1, Teleplace, Saturday November 20, http://telexlr8.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/turing-church-online-workshop-1-teleplace-saturday-november-20/

Vita-More2010: Natasha Vita-More, MIND and MAN: Getting Mental with Giulio Prisco, http://hplusmagazine.com/2010/09/12/mind-and-man-getting-mental-giulio-prisco/

55 Comments

  1. 1) Or… perhaps we are already there.

    Cries. Thats the scariest thing, and no way before the sub-conscious is properly ‘freed’ or ‘protected’ from unwanted incursions.

    2) Note: time scanning is not time travel, and it is free from the “paradoxes” of time travel.

    Not unless the above first quoted is true. Reality perception lapses/incongruities discharge energies, bends reality in strange ways to a ‘match’ occurs.

    Overload any place with too many competing thoughts and we end up with the most desirable to the largest number of minds or the path of least resistance.

  2. . . . some thoughts while reading the comments:

    1) Faith in our own posthuman potential is logically inconsistent unless we also trust in the probable existence of posthumans that are more benevolent than us and that created our world. See the New God Argument (http://www.new-god-argument.com/).

    2) Definitions of “religion” that include “supernatural” are inaccurate. Although a religion may include supernatural aspects, religion has no essential supernatural aspect. To the extent anyone insists otherwise, I suppose I’m not a religious person, but that would make no sense to anyone that knows me personally.

    3) Altruism is nihilism unless it includes one’s self along with others.

    4) Supernaturalism is lazy. It’s bad religion as much as it’s bad science. It is damnation, a declaration of voluntarily limiting the potential of progress in understanding. In contrast, a working trust in our posthuman potential should move us to aspire to understand always more than we now understand.

    5) Science is charity, a Christian duty. It is acknowledgement that others’ experience is as important as one’s own experience. Perhaps unverifiable natural miracles happen, but we should concern ourselves with expanding that which we can verify, discover and create together.

    6) Some religions, such as Mormonism, have already incorporated the idea that transfigurations and resurrections are (or will be) rites, ordinances or ceremonies. Other religions will adopt such ideas in time.

    7) Science cannot become a dogma, but scientism can become a dogma. Science is an epistemic method that is error proofed against dogma, but no individual alone exercises the method objectively. Objectivity is achieved by a scientific community. Objectivity is not the opposite or negation of subjectivity, but rather objectivity is a shared subjectivity, objective to the extent it is encompassing.

    8) We are the cells of a God in embryo.

    9) Far more persons value religion than don’t. Although there may be benefit in some contexts in finding ways to talk about these ideas without invoking “religion”, those ways should not negate religion or their influence will be weakened as a consequence.

    10) Negating the value of our world or our bodies is nihilism, even when it’s wrapped in religious or spiritual language. Trust in immaterial immortal soul is a nihilistic forth-telling, the beginning of damnation.

    11) Change and life are compatible. Superlative immortality is not an essential aspect of God. Superlative deathism is not an essential aspect of materialism or naturalism. While it is now perhaps harder to stay alive than dead, the day may come when it is harder to stay dead than alive. In the Christian tradition, like the Hindu tradition, even God dies – but rises again! The hand raised to finish the dying God is the sign of the oath to the resurrecting God.

    12) Mind uploading would not make us immaterial. It would change the material substrate of our mind. Spirit and body are inseparably connected.

    13) Perhaps whole brain emulations, even at their present level of detail, are already conscious to some limited extent? Perhaps rocks are conscious to some primal extent? We, along with the rocks, may be the thoughts of a posthuman, the conception of a God now beginning the birthing pains. In any case, how do you know I’m conscious? I attribute consciousness to you for moral and practical reasons, not because either of us can prove it.

    • Great thoughts Lincoln. I agree with all points but:

      12) Mind uploading would not make us immaterial. It would change the material substrate of our mind. Spirit and body are inseparably connected.

      If the material substrate of our mind can be changed, then it is not inseparably connected to our mind, because it _can_ be separated from it!

      I agree that a mind is never “immaterial” but, at any moment, it is linked to a material substrate (which can change in time). Like, we are never “undressed” in public but, at any moment, we wear clothes (which can change in time).

      Note to the admins – can somebody disable the automatic conversion of text to smileys (in Settings – Writing)?

      • Giulio, I agree. By “inseperable” I did not intend to mean the substrate is non-interchangeable, but rather that there must be a substrate: there cannot be spirit without body (and perhaps there cannot be body without spirit, goes the panpsychist inclination).

  3. Hi Giulio – this is something I have been working on as part of Zero State (as you may know). I cover some of it in the last two chapters of my book (TechnoMage), but am expanding it and “dumbing it down” in a new book aimed specifically at creating a practical religion as part of ZS.

    • Hi Dirk. WOW, what a book, I was not aware that you had finished writing it. I wish to read it, but I would prefer to buy it in e-book format.

      Is it available as an e-book? If not, it would be easy to put together a version in .mobi format (Kindle compatible) and sell it on http://www.smashwords.com/

  4. @Extie re her comment above: I am open to alternative ideas. Some writers have proposed that our brains may be receivers instead of generators of information: more like a TV showing a live concert, than like the remote orchestra playing the concert.

    Let scientific theory and experiment decide. But at this moment everything we know about science seems to say that machines (like our brains and future alternative substrates) can and do generate consciousness, and I am not aware of any any experimental proof of the contrary, or of any theoretical consideration supporting the contrary.

    By the way, Extie has written a great follow-up article, check it out.

    • Quote “Right now, I can attribute lack of conciousness to the fact that our current models lack so many of the details we know are there in the the human brain. Being materialist, I assume that once these details are filled in, a concious mind will arise in the machine.”

      We need to clearly define what we mean by the term “consciousness” and not mistake this for “Self -awareness”, which to my philosophy is simply “consciousness of Consciousness”, (Capital implies the phenomenon).

      What if we open our minds momentarily to the contemplation that Consciousness is phenomenon and that which is impartial and an ineffable consequence of the creation of our Universe that we are all intrinsic and a part of? Applying this simply philosophy explains not only human consciousness, or “Self-awareness”, but explains various degrees of conscious expression in all forms of life, (and matter?)

      The material is “real”, is manifest. Energy-matter transformations are supported with the notion that Consciousness phenomenon is ineffable and applies from the quantum level, and that all complexity and diversity is merely the expression of layers of consciousness interactions?

      Physicalism and materialism is supported if we contemplate Consciousness as phenomenon, and purely impartial. What comprises the human mind is “ego” and the veil of ignorance, “avidya” of separation and the belief that we in some ways a singular entity within the mind/body experience that never changes – a soul?

      Yet if we examine using the Buddhist notion and modern psychology and neuroscience, we may see that the “mind” is a tool and is the aggregate of – body, (gross/brain/matter/sense transducers), sensations, (Qualia?), apperceptions, (perception’s + memory! – of current circumstance and related to our past experiences), volition’s, (subconscious will to action), and finally Consciousness, (impartial and ineffable attribute – although not expressed this way in Buddhism, we may still align to this notion of Consciousness as phenomenon).

      To believe in souls eternal is to believe in eternal separation, especially from the Godhead, (if you are a believer in God as supreme entity). There is common ground in most Eastern and Western theologies to express this separation in terms of “Souls eternal”, and so the only goal and next best hope is to support a notion of Heaven as a place to reside with God – yet contemplating the above we may see that we are mistaking “mind” and “ego” as an expression of “Soul” – and more importantly, missing that “these” subjective phenomena may be transferred to different substrates or uploaded to machines?

      The persistence and extension of your mortal experiences as “mind” or “Soul”, as “ego” is not negative, the extension of your mortal “Self” is not negative if you so wish it. There is no freedom nor bondage within the philosophy that Consciousness is impartial, is ineffable and but more indication that

      I respect the Yoga philosophy, but support Advaita – as this philosophical grounding is in the understanding of ineffable Consciousness and eternal “potential” – for the transformation of energy-matter, (Maya), and impermanence – driven by Consciousness interactions. It is only one more step to contemplate quantum Consciousness as fundamental and natural phenomenon – and the dual slit experiment really is proof and support of “Consciousness” as objective phenomenon even at the particle level?

      In short – substrates don’t matter, (slight pun intended), we are all but energy-matter transformations driven by Consciousness interaction?

      • Apologies.. The following paragraph from above was incomplete – here’s how it concluded.

        The persistence and extension of your mortal experiences as “mind” or “Soul”, as “ego” is not negative, the extension of your mortal “Self” is not negative if you so wish it. There is no freedom nor bondage within the philosophy that Consciousness is impartial, is ineffable and but more indication that death for the ego is certain! Although not necessarily important, depending upon your outlook and philosophy?

  5. >i don’t see any experimental proof of this, or any supporting theoretical consideration, in our current scientific understanding of reality. I am unable to believe in “revealed truth” without scientific evidence (or at least plausibility).<

    I wonder if the failure of whole brain emulations to produce conscious minds might make claims like those put forward by Janardana Das a bit more plausible? Right now, I can attribute lack of conciousness to the fact that our current models lack so many of the details we know are there in the the human brain. Being materialist, I assume that once these details are filled in, a concious mind will arise in the machine. But, what if our models were complete and still we could infer no consciousness? Wouldn't that make the concept of an extra-material quality of consciousness more plausible?

    BTW, the Dalai Lama is open to the belief that reincarnation into a robot is possible. I guess his belief system is not the same as Janardana Das's. It goes to show that some spiritual movements do not rule out the possibility of minds in machines. I have no idea which worldview is most accurate, not really.

  6. See the recent and relevant post Federov’s Rapture on Charlie Stross blog.

  7. To me, transcendence means to transcend the need for a material body, and there are various processes in various cultures that are meant to do just that. In my quest I’ve found a process in which uses the power of sound vibration to harmonize oneself to the original source or “Creator”, “God” whatever you would call Him. Using the Maha mantra which is said to be imported from the spiritual world and Non-different from the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, since He is omnipresent, He is present and non-different in His name or sound vibration.

    The presence of the soul can be objectively observed in your own life… when you were a small child you were still the same person as you were when you were a teenager…and a young adult…into late adulthood “You” have never changed, although your body has literally transformed on all levels….it is natural to conclude that when your Organic Vessel (body) “dies” the “You” remains the same…in whatever transformation that may take place…and in whatever body you may inhabit next.

    I would like for you to explain what you really mean by resurrection and immortaility?

    In ancient shastra it is said that even lord Brahma the creator of the material universe must die…although he lives for hundreds of billions of years….it is relative. Even Lord Brahma must accept death as innevitable. Again he must enter the cycle of birth death old age and disease.

    You are leading people in a direction that will never manifest…because you will just say “in the future”…”someday”, and the less intelligent will accept that and continue to waste their precious time in these human forms which are very rare when you look at how many various lifeforms there are just on our planet…what to speak of other planets and lifeforms…which shastra also speaks of.

    I would recommend you read the teachings of His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, my spiritual master, for a much total and refined explanation on this subject matter.

    • Re “I would like for you to explain what you really mean by resurrection and immortaility?

      As you say, “when you were a small child you were still the same person as you were when you were a teenager…and a young adult…into late adulthood “You” have never changed, although your body has literally transformed on all levels…

      This means identity is not in the physical body, which, as you correctly say, changes all the time, but in the mental architecture, patterns and memories. Your mind pattern is a [program + data] chemically and electrically encoded in your physical brain — you can, if you wish, call it a “soul”, but it is a natural as opposed to supernatural phenomenon.

      If you are your mind pattern, which is a physical entity, copying your mind pattern to a different computational substrate will transfer you on the new substrate. This will permit achieving immortality. And when we will find a way to do it across time (copying-to-the-future) it will permit achieving resurrection.

      I think we are basically saying similar things, in very different languages and coming from very different philosophical perspectives.

      This A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada is an interesting character!

      • “when you were a small child you were still the same person as you were when you were a teenager…and a young adult…into late adulthood “You” have never changed, although your body has literally transformed on all levels…”

        I, for one, am most certainly NOT the same person I was a child or teenager. I have lost much of those memories, motivations and meanings and developed many new ones layered over the old like the layers of an onion.

        Which version of me would be resurrected? The young one would prefer itself over this old one, which would itself not like losing its hard won wisdom.

        As for “transcendence” meaning to transcend the need for a material body, that sounds a lot to me like mind-uploading. Who is to say our minds could not be uploaded to a new (virtual) reality rather than being given a new physical body? Given the speed at which new experience could be lived and new thoughts created in such an environment, we may find it vastly superior to a material existence.

        • I am also not the same person I was as a child or teenager, for the reasons you say. But in another sense, I am the same person, because… I just KNOW I am the same person. You know that too.

          What change, and how fast, can be tolerated and still be the same person instead of someone else? I don’t have an answer but I suspect that it has something to do with accepting the result of the change as a valid self.

          I am willing to accept the person who will wake up tomorrow morning in my bed as a valid continuation of my self of today. And I know by experience that he will feel the same, and accept me as a valid yesterday’s self.

  8. Mr.Prisco,
    I read your article and enjoyed your enthusiasm, however misplaced it may be.

    I study Bhakti Yoga and eastern philosophy..The essance of this way of life is to purify oneself from the false misconceptions of reality and ego that we aquired upon entering these material bodies, and of course being raised in a toxic society devoid of any type of understanding of even the most basic of spiritual laws helped to bridge the gap of ignorance even more..
    The point is that, what the shamans and ancient teachers of the past taught should not be looked over so quickly…the idea of reincarnation where our spirits or souls which are eternally blissful and full of knowledge in thier pure state, inhabit a material fetus in whatever type of lifeform…be it human or animal…insect or otherwise and then grow…produce by-product..and eventually die (leave the material body) and enter into a new body depending on the spiritual evolution or type of advancement that soul made in their previous body/life. the goal is to end the cycle of reincarnation because no matter what planet…what type of body , death is ALWAYS there…and that means suffering..and you can certaintly understand our desire for eternality…or immortality…that is because we are immortal beings…our souls are.. they cannot die by any means, however the bodies we inhabit can and do die…always..

    it is science’s tendancy to say “well in the future”…or “someday” we can do this…or that.. that is foolishness, that is sciences way to defer their lack of knowledge and understanding… what your saying about ressurecting people from the dead is absolutely absurd….who would want to be ressurected anyways? all decomposed? it is impossible because the soul has already left the body, WE ARE NOT THESE BODIES, they are simply ORGANIC MACHINES…and when they break down and become useless that is what we know as death… but WE do not DIE… as we are eternal soul…

    what is the difference between a dead flower and a living flower? what molecule has been displaced to cause that flower to die? why can’t you bring a simple flower back to life? because the essance or soul particle has left… science does not understant the subtle elements of this material world like mind/intelligence/ego/soul/ these are subtle elements that are virtually undetectable by modern science, so science dismisses them as false or myth.
    There are no universities that study the soul or spirit…and the world at large has very little information on how the metaphysical realm works and functions so perfectly.
    You are wasting your time Mr Prisco…you will not ever be able to ressurect your dead mother…or father.. it is impossible to live forever no matter how good of technology we possess, that goes against the laws of material nature…although it is science’s goal to disrupt these laws as much as possible or to lord over and become “God”.. you will forever be caught in the cycle of samsara or birth death old age and disease with this mentality.

    • @Janardana Das:

      Thanks for writing. So you are saying that we should not bother to try achieving immortality and resurrection with science and technology, because we already are immortal souls.

      Well, let me say that I would be very happy if I could believe this. But i don’t see any experimental proof of this, or any supporting theoretical consideration, in our current scientific understanding of reality. I am unable to believe in “revealed truth” without scientific evidence (or at least plausibility).

      I can, of course, be wrong, and I am certainly interested in continuing this conversation. But I will continue to consider science and engineering as the only sensible means to achieve immortality, resurrection and transcendence.

  9. As you said, the aproach to the general public is important because most ppl are rejecting from the start everything is new and threaten the current way of life.
    But this aproach must be done on a rational and scientific bases in a more understandable form, terms like “church” or “religion” should never be associated with transhumanism. It is a dangerous path I think.
    ps: xcuse my english 🙂

    • Hi Dan, thanks for commenting. I am aware that terms like “church” or “religion” put some people off (those whom I refer to as “ultra-rationalist bureaucrats of philosophy.”) But they can also turn many other people on.

      I really wish we could find a suitable alternative (see also my reply to Extropia’s comment above). “Spirituality” is the best alternative that I am aware of. There are more precise terms, but they are not immediately understandable: 15-syllables Greek term that nobody understands cannot trigger any immediate emotional reaction.

      In today’s attention economy, you really need to make things simple, then much simpler, then simplify some more, and only then you may get some attention. I believe our ideas are important, and I want to bring them to the attention of as many persons as possible.

  10. >Mind uploading is not religion, it’s technology.<

    The Moi (those wonderful stone statues on Easter Island) are not religion, either. They too are technology. But, I would hazard a guess that there was religious significance attached to them. So why shouldn't religious significance surround, say, the creation of artilects? If we take Hugo de Garis's word for it, a speck the size of a grain of sand could, if 'nanoteched', perform staggering computational feats, and a sugar-cube sized mass could house a brain so immensly powerful it would deserve to be thought of as godlike. There is a transcendental property in matter waiting for advances in Moore's Law to unlock it. You can carve a lump of rock into a representation of your god and treat it as though it were a deity. If Kurzweil is to be believed, we will one day arrange the matter and energy of the universe into sublime thinking substrates. God is 'there' in the universe waiting to be 'woken' just as the Moi were 'there' in the rocks waiting for the chisels to 'release' them. I just think if you really believe what de Garis and Kurzweil say is theoretically possible, you should have no problems with attaching religious significance to the dream of releasing the god sleeping in our universe.

    • Interesting that you mention the Moi statues – I am using some great CC-licensed pictures of Mois by night as main cover art for the Turing Church website. I find them incredibly inspiring.

      I love “we will one day arrange the matter and energy of the universe into sublime thinking substrates. God is ‘there’ in the universe waiting to be ‘woken’“.

      I believe most readers would also agree. For those who don’t agree, I guess the main issue is the qualifier “religious” attached to “significance”. You and I use the R word in a similar sense, but others have a knee-jerk reaction and a cognitive shutdown when the R word is mentioned. I really wish we could find a suitable alternative. See also my reply to the comment below.

  11. Our critics already bombard us with accusations of cultishness and “nerd rapture” slurs; why justify them? I’d like to keep my rationalist worldview thank you, and could not give a shit about whether or not transhumanism resonates with the emotions of the average Joe. If we have to market ourselves as a religion then we have nothing worth marketing in the first place.

  12. Thanks Robert! You say it very well: “a worldview with practical (as opposed to merely intellectual) power.” Ben Goertzel has the same in mind when he defines (his version of) Cosmism as “a practical philisophy”, and of course William James would agree.

  13. Dictionary definitions of religion tend to be unhelpful (at least from a scholarly position), so I don’t think they’re going to get us far in debating H+ as a religion. David Chidester, a well-known historian of religions, defines religion as “the negotiation of what it means to be human with respect to the superhuman and the subhuman.” By this definition, all transhumanism is already a religion; Giulio openly recognizes what others deny and encourages all transhumanists to create a worldview with practical (as opposed to merely intellectual) power by recognizing it also. As he rightly points out, “that sounds like religion” is not a meaningful argument…nor is it a particularly good insult. Religion is a tool and, like other tools, can be put to good or bad uses. Bravo to Giulio for his ongoing commitment to the good!

  14. @Peter. Thank YOU for reading. Your comment means a lot to me.

    In Engineering Transcendence I mentioned my visit to the Unitarian Universalist community in Transylvania in 2004. I remember asking a Unitarian Universalist minister, “what happens to us after we die?”

    We were in a very suggestive place of natural wilderness with mountains, trees, flowers, pristine streams. He opened his arms to the nature around us and just answered “The spring…”

    Thinking that we will go back to nature and be recycled in the never ending flow of universal evolution gives a good feeling and _almost_ permits making peace with personal death. But many persons, especially in our “western culture” with our perhaps over-developed sense of self, would prefer a more personal form of immortality.

    If I were not persuaded that science and technology may give us the means to engineer immortality and resurrection, I would certainly find a “second best” spiritual home in the nice and warm Unitarian Universalism. But I think we can do even better, and I believe my ideas as not in conflict with, but rather complementary to Unitarian Universalism.

    • So are you saying that transhumanism is something different than transhumanist religion? Or are you saying they are one and the same?

      • Transhumanist religions are religious interpretations of transhumanism, and/or transhumanist interpretations of religions. They live in the intersection of transhumanist and religious thinking space, and cannot be considered as “one and the same” as either.

  15. I am a real live Unitarian Universalist minister who who wants to thank you for articulating your views and insights.

  16. if time is a human construct there is a chance it is possible it never is created or destroyed but always there from start to finish in infinitely thin slices like a flip movie. if so reconstrution and reviviification could be accurately and completely recalled.

  17. I prefer to think about transhumanism as a school of philosophy. Like those in ancient Greece and Rome. Back then philosopher was a person who behaved in accordance with his doctrine and not who writes books or has diploma in philosophy. Transhumanism is quite similar to those being practical teaching.

    As for religion – there are numerous dystopias about that. Most well known i guess is w40k. What is common among them that science will turn into dogma, thus ending any progress.

  18. I remember a few years ago Richard Dawkins made a TV documentary based on his book ‘The God Delusion’. At one point he observed some kind of Catholic ritual and he commented on how the ritual had a very strong sense of community and how it was not suprising this should appeal to a social animal like a human being.

    Perhaps that is the aspect of religion that Giulio thinks transhumanism can learn from? Take mind uploading, for instance. If this is ever achieved, what will the experience be like? Will it involve entering some clinical white room where impersonal scientists go through the procedure? What if, instead, it were like a rite of initiation, like a baptism or a Bar Mitzvah? Some kind of ceremony marking a rite of passage? Wouldn’t that be more appealing? Wouldn’t transhumanism appeal to more people if it had its own rituals and ceremonies like religions do for weddings etc? Surely this could be achieved without recourse to supersition and other forms of irrationality?

    • Hi Extie . in your example, I think some people would find a suggestive ceremony and rite of passage more appealing, while others would prefer a simple medical procedure in a clinical white room. It depends on personal aesthetic preferences, and I think both options should be available.

      In general, some people do need strong rituals to reinforce the sense of community that they need. Others (like me) tend to find long and strict rituals uninteresting and boring. But I appreciate light, optional and informal rituals to create an atmosphere with a flavor of transcendence and facilitate a positive state of mind.

  19. Thanks Linda and Fred! I also see the philosophies of SfUI and Terasem as completely compatible. And I think also the philosophy of the Mormon Transhumanist Association is compatible with both, if we are kind enough to forgive them for being… Mormons! 🙂 🙂 🙂 (Lincoln please forgive me for this and let us hear you here).

    Our ideas are good and can make people happier, and better persons too. I think we should offer them to many more people through the unity-in-diversity and diversity-in-unity of our still small spiritual transhumanist community.

    I have started announcing and organizing the Turing Church Online Workshop 2, in November or December. I hope you two, Mike and other readers will participate.

  20. Hi Giulio

    Great article! I’d like to add a couple thoughts.

    The transreligion of Terasem is based on science, rationality and technology with a spiritual foundation built on the beautiful duality of diversity with unity and joyful immortality everywhere, rather than dogma and brutality. That most fundamental concept (diversity with unity) underlies and radiates through every aspect of Terasem.

    As Mike Clancey pointed out, Fred and I are life-long atheists, meaning that we are “not theists”, not meaning that we kick old ladies in the street. We do, however, find the non-mystical, technological and rational trans-religion of Terasem is not only inspiring, but an important answer to the ethical and political problems that our biological evolution has given us along with our inspiring consciousness and capabilities.

    We are in a race and that race is between our internal Dr. Jaekel and Mr. Hyde. Within the next few decades our exponentially growing level of technology can either lead to our demise or to our transformation beyond our current deadly limitations. Our competitive biological drives will not reverse themselves automatically. If we are to have a happy, productive future, we have to take matters into our own hands and use our rationality, not our blink responses. We have to find the optimum middle ground that represents the greatest advantage for all, not just for a small group seeking domination.

    Fred and I are also members of SFUI (Society for Universal Immortalism) and find that its philosophy is completely compatable with Terasem’s. We also support the ideas of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. Again, Terasem sees this journey into a future where everyone, everywhere will enjoy joyful immortality, as being best won through diversity and unity.

    Congratulations on your election to the position of President of SFUI, Giulio! We are all much closer to our goals of joyful immortality because of that!

    Boundless life and love,

    Linda and Fred Chamberlain

  21. can we plan to get back images from people ‘s brain scan when they have know some people we’d like to watch on cinema on some “digital rebirth” to quote the famous french band “united fools” ? time scanning is appealing though

  22. @Sean re “a religion that can eventually be proved or disproved (without dying first)”

    Well… not so fast. We can certainly persuade ourselves that this religion, or mythology, makes a lot of sense from a scientific point of view.

    But I am afraid that we will still need to die and wake up alive;-) to _really_ accept it from a first person, subjective point of view. Time will tell… In the meantime, just contemplating the _possibility_ of resurrection makes me happy enough.

  23. @Mike – I agree with you on the “supernatural” issue, and in my worldview there is no room for the supernatural (see the caveat below). As you say, things that may seem “supernatural” to us are likely to be just “magic technology” in the sense of Clarke’s Third Law. I consider mind uploading, time scanning, synthetic realities, resurrection and Godlike entities as science, technology, and natural phenomena evolved in our universe and subject to its laws of physics.

    As I anticipated, there is a caveat that can, in some sense, reconcile our scientific worldview with the “supernatural”. Let’s suppose we live in a synthetic reality computed in a higher order reality. My scientific worldview makes me assume that the sentient entities who, in their higher order reality, run the simulation which is our reality, are not “supernatural” but “natural” in the sense that they have naturally evolved in _their_ universe and are subject to _their_ laws of physics, which they cannot violate… but this does not mean that they cannot violate _our_ laws of physics, which from their point of view are are just computer algorithms and software. They are “natural” from _their_ point of view, but they and their interventions in our reality can be “supernatural” from _our_ point of view.

    Quoting from my “In Whom we live, move, and have our being” (link in the article):

    Apparently, there is an important difference between Berkeley and Moravec: As a 18th century Christian and a representative of the Church, Berkeley believed in supernatural phenomena, in principle understandable by science, while Moravec, as a modern engineer, believes reality is fully understandable and explainable by science. Moravec’s simulated realities will be developed by future engineers, within the framework of future science. If our reality is a simulation, everything in our universe can be understood in terms of the physical laws of the higher level reality in which it is simulated.

    But… this is only true from the point of view of those who are simulating lower level realities. From the point of those who live in a simulation, Moravec’s simulation cosmology may well contain supernatural phenomena: The reality engineer up there, the Transcendent Mind, may choose to violate the rules of the game.

    Make this simple experiment: Run a Game of Life program, for example this, choose an initial pattern, and let it evolve for a while. Now, stop the program, flip a cell, and resume the program. You have just performed a miracle: something that goes against the physical laws (the simple cellular automata evolution rules of Life) of the lower level reality that you are simulating. The Game of Life is too simple to contain conscious observers, but hypothetical observers within the game would observe an event that cannot be understood in terms of the physical laws of their universe. A miracle.

    • Love the “Game of Life” example! The problem with the miracle approach is that (given sentient observers within the simulation) such an event would provide verifiable proof that the reality engineers (“Gods”) exist and would likely taint the results of whatever said engineers are trying to achieve with the simulation.

      • At a minimum, it would certainly affect the behavior of those being “observed”

        • Well, the fish and chips fishes and loaves of bread thing has certainly affected our behaviour in the last couple of millennia.

          • Too bad it was insufficiently documented and we didn’t have the technology to verify it as “miraculous” at the time. Odd that now that we do, miracles don’t.

            • But we did: eyes to see, and mouths to eat. Of course (assuming there really was something to see and eat) others could have denied the evidence, attributed everything to mass hallucination under the influence of some drugs… as, I am afraid, it would happen now if we were to obtain conclusive proof of “miracles” at the LHC. If the reality engineers are wise and know us well, I guess they are not too worried of tainted results, because they know we would never manage to agree on what is a “verifiable proof” and most people would just not bother and go on with their lives.

              • Can’t buy that one. What we have today and didn’t have then is the scientific method … so the truth does get out. It may take more than 150 years in some cases (i.e. evolution), but it DOES eventually convince people.

                • Come on Mike. In your country, they want to ban Darwin from schools in some states.

                  • There will always be troglodytes, but the majority of people (even in the U.S.) are rational. 🙂

                    • Then why dot hey believe in God?

  24. (Please assume that I have prefaced all of the following statements with “In my opinion”.)
    Transhumanism serves as an explanation of how some of the promises of religion can or will be fulfilled … it is not a religion in and of itself. The problem is in the definition of the term “religion”. While finding a mutually agreed upon definition of religion can be a difficult task, I defer to the Google definition: “1.The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods” and the wiki version: “A religion is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a supernatural agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” The sticking point for me is the term “supernatural” – there is nothing supernatural about transhumanism including mind uploading, time scanning, synthetic realities or any of the future technologies we have yet to even dream of. Arthur C. Clarke said it best: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Just because we cannot (yet) divine the roots of the universe does not make them supernatural.

    Secondarily, I feel the need to make the point that the Terasem Faith considers itself a “transreligion” in that it “includes all religions the way a forest includes its trees” (see the Truths of Terasem at terasemfaith.net ). It also welcomes atheists and agnostics … such as Fred and Linda Chamberlain themselves.

    Regardless, the goal of “communicating our beautiful ideas in a simple and effective format [to] give happiness, hope, sense of wonder, sense of purpose and peace of mind to multitudes of seekers” is one to which I subscribe wholeheartedly. I have the honor of having the opportunity to work for Terasem and may yet play some small part in achieving these objectives. It does give my work a true sense of purpose, but it’s really not all that altruistic. I believe such an approach is actually self-serving in the sense that it represents the shortest possible path to achieving transcendence. Achieving transcendence (or singularity) in my lifetime is the best chance I have of actually experiencing the science fiction futures I have grown up reading and dreaming about. I strongly encourage you to consider supporting Terasem for the same reasons.

  25. Transhumanism as a religion is something that I too have long thought about. It’s an idea that is long overdue for implementation…I can’t help but to feel a great amount of faith in the ability of man to transcend his biology and break free from the chains of mortality. The idea of having a religion that can eventually be proved or disproved (without dying first) is absolutely beautiful! The golden transcendence of man has,
    I think,
    already begun.

    We live in interesting times –
    it is truly a privilege
    to be alive at this point in history, when everything changes and
    The future opens it’s arms to us.

  26. No. Religion is not something I want Transhumanism associated with, thank you, unless it’s based around making the rest of society perceive us techno-nerds as magical demigods because of our seemingly magical technology, similar to the situation Asimov creates in his Foundation series. That seems rather unethical, though.

  27. Mind uploading is not religion, it’s technology.

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