Review of “Transforming Humanity” by Maxwell Leistung

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 6.56.22 PMMy own career lies mainly in the areas of technology and science.   I focus the bulk of my attention on conceiving and developing new methods of using advanced technology to make our corner of the universe a better and more interesting place. But of course, here on Earth – at least until we have very advanced AGIs – every technology, no matter how advanced, is created, rolled out, utilized and regulated by human beings.   The Technological Singularity, if indeed it occurs as Kurzweil, Vinge and others have projected, will be equally much a Human Singularity – from the “before” side and hopefully, at least in part, from the “after” side as well.   Alongside developing new technology and inventing/discovering new science, we also need to focus on improving the human beings who are deploying, utilizing, creating, and benefiting from and/or being harmed by these technologies.

Of course, the improvement of humanity can itself be approached as a technological problem – via brain-computer interfacing, mind uploading, cyborgization and the like. But then the practical use of these technologies, as they gradually develop, is still going to depend heavily on the state of good old pre-technological-upgrade humans.   Even if one is a great believer in the transformational power of advanced technologies, one must admit that dramatic improvements to the nature of humanity, if they could be achieved prior to (or in parallel with) the development of the next wave of amazing technologies, would ease the practical onset of coming transformations, and increase the odds of positive outcomes.

But, one may rightly ask, how possible is it to rapidly alter human nature for the better, without use of advanced technology?   Haven’t do-gooders and visionaries been working on this for a long time, with quite limited success?   Isn’t the “human nature” of most people just a self-contradictory pain-in-the-ass, intrinsically?   Aren’t groups of humans always going to be filled with struggles, status games, jealousy and other difficulties? Isn’t this just the way people are?

I have made some arguments of this sort in a couple previous blog posts (see The Bullshit at the Heart of Humanity).   Ultimately, though, the arguments I give there just summarize why human nature is as perverse and troublesome as it is.   They don’t imply that the problems with everyday human experience and interaction are unfixable, or only fixable via technological intervention.

Synthetic biology researcher and transhumanist activist Maxwell Leistung, in his recent book Transforming Humanity, has presented a careful and cogent argument that, in fact, it may well be possible for human beings to radically improve their own experience and interaction, even without benefit of currently nonexistent hi-tech interventions.   The broad and rich communication mechanisms provided by today’s Internet are, he argues, sufficient to enable the creation of a social movement or “self-organizing organization” (as he phrases it) – “a new kind of social movement, aimed specifically at upgrading the practical reality of human nature.”

Leistung acknowledges that human beings are, indeed, heavily constrained by both biology and culture.   However, he points out that “we don’t really know the nature of these constraints all that thoroughly. Some key points are known, but a lot is still mysterious.   Historically, each new human culture that has emerged, has contained aspects that members of earlier cultures would have found shocking, yet still lay well within the scope of human nature.   So, while advanced technology will eventually let us fundamentally change the nature of humanity, for the moment it is also important and interesting to think about how far we can push human nature in a positive direction without use of these advanced technological modifications.”

While he doesn’t enlarge on the point, it seems clear that Leistung shares the hope of myself and many others that, even assuming a Kurzweilian/Vingean Singularity occurs, afterwards those who wish to remain traditionally human will be able to flourish in this way even as technology advances indefinitely. In this case improvements to human nature made before such a Singularity would not only help militate toward a positive Singularity, but would presumably spill over into post-Singularity life, providing benefits there as well.

The goal of starting a new kind of H+ movement and radically influencing the future of humanity is certainly an ambitious one – and writing a book is a very small part of the work required to achieve such a goal.   Leistung certainly realized this when he authored Transforming Humanity, and intended his book to be useful in the setting of the hard work of organization-building.   Considered in this context, I think the book was very well put together indeed.   But I think I also need to give a caution here: For reasons that I’ll discuss at the end of the review, this is not really an objective, impartial review of Leistung’s book.    It’s more a summary of the main points of the book, somewhat filtered through my own tastes and interests.

A Bit of Background

I approached Max’s book with much interest due to my own experience in the futurist nonprofit world.     Over the last 6 years I’ve put in time as Chair, Vice Chair and Board Member of Humanity+, the futurist organization that sponsors this fine magazine, and have held various roles in other futurist orgs; and this has led me to some thoughts about what kind of organization of future-oriented people might be more impactful.  Most of the ideas in Max’s book are fairly agreeable to me based on my own experience – and indeed, if I weren’t already more than fully absorbed with other pursuits that I greatly value, it’s quite possible I would throw myself into trying to create an “Upgrade Humanity” organization of the sort Max describes in his book, because I think it could be massively positively influential   Instead, at least, I’ve taken some time from my overbooked work schedule to write this review!

While Max probably wouldn’t appreciate the comparison, some of his thinking reminds me a bit of Giulio Prisco’s conception of a “Turing Church.”   Giulio, along with Philippe van Nedervelde and others, has put a lot of energy into exploring the possibility of a transhumanist/futurist movement that is structured like, and plays similar roles to, a religion.   I’m not into religion particularly, and Leistung’s book isn’t religion-oriented, but I can see deep connections between Max Leistung’s and Giulio Prisco’s thinking nonetheless.   Some key points are that a religion is able involve every aspect of one’s being, and bring a deep feeling of communion with one’s fellows.   These aspects are somewhat missing from the current transhumanist/futurist movements, yet obviously important; and the new kind of humanist/transhumanist movement that Leistung advocates would emphatically incorporate these aspects.   Some specifics derived from historical religions (e.g. techniques drawn from Tibetan Buddhism and other wisdom traditions) also pop up in supporting roles in Leistung’s discussion.

I’m also reminded a bit of “Occupy” movement, and its successes and failures.   I think Max Leistung would very likely agree with me that the Occupy movement has correctly identified many deep flaws with current social and economic structures.   And I admire the way it has resisted becoming a traditional, hierarchical political organization.   However, I suppose everyone agrees it has not been nearly as impactful as the participants would have liked.   In thinking about this I’ve often gone back to ideas from the Situationists and especially Raoul Vaneigem’s old book “The Revolution of Everyday Life.”   Changing socioeconomics without correspondingly changing our everyday social interactions and psychological experiences, isn’t going to work – it’s just going to lead to more “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”   Broader societal shifts tend to involve coupled changes in psychology, microsociology, and macrosociology and economics.

But how can one bring about such complex coupled changes?   This is, in essence, the topic Max Leistung’s book aims to address – from a fairly nitty-gritty practical, rather than theoretical, perspective.

 

Leistung’s Modest Proposal

The core of Leistung’s book is a concrete suggestion for what an “Upgrade Humanity” movement should look like, in order to have a snowball’s chance in hell of radically influencing the future of the world.   And what he suggests doesn’t look much like current futurist or transhumanist organizations at all.

What Leistung proposes is the ultimate extension of the commonplace observation that, in the modern era, specific skills and knowledge matter less than the ability to adapt and learn.   A consequence of this, he points out, is that if we want the transhumanist movement to be successful, we need to focus on improving the ability of transhumanist humans – as individuals and in groups – to adapt and learn as the future unfolds. To put it simply: None of us know what the next decades are going to bring, so the best way to prepare for them, is to become able to effectively handle ANYTHING.

But if one looks at the transhumanist community today, frankly, one does not tend to see the most adaptive, broadly functional people on the planet. One sees all kinds, to be sure.  But by and large, one finds individuals with an uncommon conceptual insight and vision regarding the future, yet not necessarily a correspondingly powerful understanding regarding how to get things done in the world, nor how to manage their relationships with others, nor how to achieve here-and-now satisfaction their own minds.   It’s difficult to have faith in the transhumanist community, as it exists today, as a force for bringing about a grand transhuman future (as opposed to what it is now, which is basically a powerful force for interestingly discussing future possibilities!).

How does Leistung propose to bring about a new kind of “trans-humanist” organization, utterly different from the assemblage of small, splintered transhumanist groups that we see today? Ironically yet in the end very appropriately, his suggestion is to work toward a massively more impactful transhumanist organization, via making an organization that focuses above all on improving its’ members humanity.

What he proposes in Transforming Humanity is, not an hierarchical organization at all, but rather a collection of small cells – each cell with a dozen or fewer people, to enable close interaction among members. Each cell would be informally organized, but according to a common set of principles.

The goal of each cell would be to work toward the general improvement and support of the minds and hearts of all the members.   Cells would exchange information about the best ways of doing this. He suggests that online wiki-type infrastructure would be ideal for this, and gives a number of specific suggestions in this regard (which have their pluses and minuses in my view; but in any case the power of Leistung’s overall proposal does not hang on the particulars of the associated online information-sharing mechanisms, which doubtless will evolve along with practice, assuming Leistung’s ideas are indeed put into practice in any serious way).

The activities of each cell would be oriented toward improving the members in a variety of aspect of human existence. The scope of aspects included is more important than the detailed of the list, but the “first stab” list provided by Leistung is as follows (listed here in alphabetical order):

  • Compassion
  • Creativity
  • Leadership
  • Learning Ability
  • Mediation
  • Rationality
  • Well-Being (Joy)

 

Think about it — imagine the impact that could be had by a global organization of people who had mastered all these aspects of human life … a global organization of human beings who had put in concerted effort, working together over a period of years, to make themselves the best possible human beings they could possibly be. Imagine a group of transhumanist individuals with a clear understanding of themselves and the world, a clear grasp of their own humanity in all its dimensions.   A group capable of working together to achieve goals in a manner not wracked by conflicts, due to its advanced understanding of individual and group psychology and its experience with mediation techniques; a group capable of thinking rationally and analytically without falling prey to commonplace cognitive biases, but also capable of feeling deeply and empathically and relating to the world and all its occupants on a gut and heart level; a group capable of learning new things without excessive attachment to its old ideas, and creating new things freely without excessive egoistic attachment to its creations … pushing to realize its creative ideas in the real world, yet also openly ingesting feedback from the world regarding the value and place of each idea. A group that fully enjoyed the experience of being human year by year, day by day and moment by moment – while working toward the creation of broader transhuman realities, and the gradual modification of current human existence into something bigger and better.

This is Leistung’s vision.   Admittedly it can sound a bit utopian (though this may be in part a failure of my paraphrasing about; Leistung himself comes across in his book as an eminently practical man) … but when you look at the details of what Leistung is suggesting, it’s really not about any kind of unattainable perfection. Rather, it’s about people working together to do the best they can within their current constraints – to do the best they can at being themselves right now, and at transforming themselves and the world into something dramatically better.

Of course, just wanting to become radically better in various aspects isn’t enough, and doesn’t get you very far at all.   A movement such as Leistung outlines would need to start with well-defined, practical methodologies addressing each of the key areas. And he does have something to say about each of these.

But he also makes clear that his specific suggestions regarding each area of human improvement he identifies as central, are only suggestions regarding the initial condition of the movement he envisions. To realize the vision intended, the different cells would need to communicate intensively via online fora, exchanging information regarding which methods worked best for addressing which area. Experimentation with new techniques and reporting on results would need to be enthusiasticaly encouraged.   Cells would be need to be – and would need to expect each other to be — creative, cooperative, experimental and empirical.

He suggests an informal organization in which each cell has one leader and one scribe at each point in time, the scribe charged with communicating with the global organization.   As a default, he suggests, leaders and scribes could be rotated on an annual basis within each cell.   But he also warns at length against the dangers of falling into a mentality that places importance on the mechanics of organizational structure and leadership.   For a movement as he suggests to work, the focus must be squarely on individual and collective journeys of improvement and expansions in various dimensions, not on which person has temporarily adopted which formal role within a certain fragment of the overall movement.

Annual unconferences could also be organized, globally or within particular regions, bringing individuals within various cells together.   Having “luminaries,” famous scientists and business leaders address audiences is, in Leistung’s view, not particularly pointful.   Online videos provide an excellent and modern way for everyone to hear people talk about their experiences and share their expertise, including the famous and distinguished.   Of course, a good speech can be entertaining and exciting, just like a good rock concert; but the experience of listening to a great concert doesn’t compare to the experience of jamming in a band with others and directly, creatively contributing to the music.   The core purpose of the unconferences Leistung envisions is for the collective feedback that normally occurs within each cell, to take place more broadly among individuals who are generally geographically dispersed. Some of this kind of collective sharing can occur at a distance on an everyday basis via video-conferencing and so forth, but Leisting is fairly emphatic in his belief that so long as we are embodied in our traditional human forms, there will be a greater richness of exchange in face-to-face interactions than we will be able to get via electronic means. (As an aside, I am not sure I share his view on the severity of the limitations of Internet as opposed to F2F conferencing – it’s true in the context of current technology as intersected with modern lifestyles, but I wonder if 5-10 years from now once Internet conferencing has advanced, there will still seem to be such dramatic advantages to F2F interactions as there are today.   Anyway, though, right now we have to cope with the world as it exists today with all of its limitations as well as its exciting possibilities. I basically agree with Max Leistung that, for the moment, it is much easier to envision a “cell” like he describes functioning well based on F2F interactions, and much easier to envision an “unconference” like he describes working well F2F also.   Obviously Max would also be willing to re-evaluate his views on this, if presented with new enabling technologies.)

I’ve said more here about Leistung’s broad vision than about the specifics of the transformative methods he suggests – and that’s intentional, because I think the broad vision is the main point and contribution of Leistung’s work.   He does make specific suggestions regarding current methodologies for advancing individually and collectively in each of areas he identifies as important. But I don’t see these suggestions as critical to his overall vision for a new kind of transhumanist/humanist organization. Rather, I am more impressed with his vision of the overall structure and process of a group of distributed cells of people ongoingly working to improve themselves, and ongoingly sharing information regarding the methods they have found valuable.

Having said that, though, I don’t want to weasel out entirely – so I will briefly list some of the specific methods that Leistung discusses. I note that in each case he gives some overview of existing techniques and methods, and then makes some (often quite interesting) suggestions regarding how they might be customized and adapted for use in the context of a movement such as he envisions.

  • Compassion: Here Leistung reveals his bias as a long practitioner of Shambhala meditation. After some talk about the importance of good listening and the relation between compassion and mediation (certainly valid points), he advocates something called CBCT or Cognitively Based Compassion Training, which turns out to be a sort of secularized version of certain Tibetan Buddhist practices.
  • Creativity: There is a large literature on the fostering of creativity, with widely varying quality; and Leistung wisely steers clear of most of it (while still citing various academic references demonstrating its effectiveness at least in certain circumstances).   After paying a little more than lip service to classic approaches such as Synectics, he advocates the more recently developed NeuroCreativity methodology as likely the most worthy of adoption. I am honestly not that familiar with the details of NeuroCreativity, but given Max’s professional background as a biologist I will defer to his judgment that its neuroscience connection at least has some foundation.   I have planned to look into this more carefully since reading Transforming Humanity, but frankly haven’t gotten to it yet.
  • Leadership: Leistung is a big fan of Bob and Judith Wright and their work on “transformational leadership“ at the Wright Institute . This is good stuff with some demonstrated effectiveness.   But I wonder whether the proposed small, self-organized cells approach is well-suited for teaching/learning leadership, actually.   If a cell happens not to have any “naturally strong leaders” in it, is it really feasible for the cell members to organically learn leadership skill from each other?   That’s hard for me to say; I suppose this is one among many areas in which Leistung’s proposal forms an interesting socio-psycho-cultural experiment….
  • Learning Ability: Here Leistung’s advice is actually fairly conventional, and he suggests a number of resources aimed at promoting critical thinking and learning in various domains, e.g. Polya’s How to Solve It in mathematics, and basic evidence-based study techniques  and memorization methods. This is all quite valuable stuff, yet one wonders if some more systematic approach could be taken here, based on a deeper understanding of human learning. This seems a very ripe area for future research, at any rate.
  • Mediation: Both Leistung and I have long been big fans of Adam Kahane’s take on scenario-based thinking, both as a mode of planning in complex situations, and as a mode of mediation.   Kahane’s transformative scenario planning approach seems especially appropriate in a transhumanist context, given the variety of future scenarios under discussion and the strength of opinions about them. This seems an aspect of Leistung’s program that is particularly ripe for unfolding in the “unconference” setting, even more so than in a small-group setting. Very interesting.
  • Rationality: Here Leistung is impressed by the meetup groups associated with the “Less Wrong” community , which have spread across major urban areas throughout the world (though mainly centered in the US). These groups meet regularly to practice rational thinking techniques and discuss related issues; a major focus is the overcoming of cognitive biases as identified in the psychology literature, and the achievement of the ability to make rational Bayesian estimation of probabilities. But the focus is not always so narrow and there has also been an emphasis on, for example, learning to more rationally approach one’s social and professional life.
  • Well-Being (Joy): Here Leistung largely defers to the psychologist Jeffery Martin, who has conducted an extensive study  of individuals around the world experiencing “states of extraordinary well-being” (closely related to what others would call “enlightenment”).   Martin, as Leistung recounts, has surveyed various techniques for achieving such extraordinary states, both traditional and more technological ones, and has created a synthetic technique in which (to oversimplify considerably) each individual tries various methods and finds out which ones work best for him and then practices those.   Martin reports dramatic success in deploying this sort of (meta-)technique with small groups of individuals, both via F2F interaction and via online Google Hangouts discussion groups.   All this seems plausible to me; Martin’s work is clearly focused on empirical study and carefully-measured real-world practice.   How the mix of practices Martin advocates would co-exist with the other practices Leistung suggests for addressing other aspects of human growth, remains to be determined – but this is exactly the sort of intriguing experiment in humanity that Leistung’s book exists to promote….

 

Details aside – though the details are obviously the most interesting part! — what is clear is that each of the areas Leistung highlights is a big hunk to chew off, on its own. Each of these aspects of being human is BIG and complex, and could easily take a lifetime to master.

But here we get to the point of Leistung’s book – which is not to master anything. The point is more in the process – the process of working together to improve ourselves as human beings, so as to render ourselves, individually and collectively, better able to create positive transformational change and go beyond humanity as currently conceived. Becoming better humans together; so that together we can create something better than current humanity.

The difference between this sort of approach and the current conventional education system is striking.   “Education,” as currently conceived, is mainly about getting declarative and procedural knowledge programmed effectively into human brains. But as knowledge goes more and more rapidly obsolete, and ongoing mastery of newly created knowledge becomes more and more important, the institutionalization of declarative and procedural knowledge acquisition becomes less and less relevant.   Learning this sort of knowledge is increasingly something everyone must do as part of their everyday lives, if they want to be productive and remain employable and part of the vibrant network of society.   On the other hand, becoming a more complete, functional, satisfied, creative, joy-embodying and joy-spreading human being – this is something that the educational system barely focuses on at all. What if society’s education system were focused on making better and better human beings, with more self-understanding, more compassion, more ability to learn and lead and feel and create and love and feel joy and wonder and compassion? – then more learning of declarative and procedural knowledge would happen anyway, because we would have more people with passion and capability for self-motivated, inspired learning.

This different kind of education system is what Leistung is pushing toward – but not as a separate institution that people go to for a few years of their lives and then move on from, but as a systematic activity that pervades our lives.   Ideally, the kind of group learning/growing activity Leistung advocates would replace the outmoded education systems we now inflict on our youths – but in the immediate term, at least, it can be used to supplement the existing education systems, and help people to make the best of existing education systems and the rest of society, and transform these systems gradually along with the rest of humanity’s individual and collective self-transformation.

From some perspectives, this sort of amalgamation of humanism and transhumanism might seem awkward or peculiar – “strange bedfellows.” After all, if humanity as we know it is soon going to be rendered obsolete by advances in technology, then why bother with improving mere humanity, given all the “struggling with the constraints of legacy biology, psychology and culture” that this entails?

And yet, as Leistung points out repeatedly and with force, any transhuman world that emerges on Earth is going to be created by humans. There is no strong reason to believe that transhuman reality will simply fall into some “attractor state” that is independent of the particulars of the human forces creating it.   Rather, the quality of mind and heart of the human beings creating the transhuman world, is likely to have a significant impact on the form the transhuman world takes.   Thus the motive to transform individual humans now, so that they can better cooperate on the coming, already currently unfolding broader transformation of humanity.

I could go on; but I’m sure you get the gist. Overall, I obviously completed Max Leistung’s book with a good feeling.   I think having a movement such as he describes would be a Good Thing. I would certainly join as a member.   The broad idea is important and impressive, and seems definitely a step forward.   And yet, I am not wholly convinced by the particular method and technologies he suggests.   I would like to see someone set up an online mechanism – possibly just a wiki – oriented toward inviting people to provide pointers to what they think are the best methodologies for achieving improvement in the areas Leistung identifies (or other related areas they judge important).   The focus would be on methods that can be practiced by a small group of people with perhaps 5-7 hours per week of attention for the process.   Leistung envisions this sort of online sharing mechanism as being important for exchanging information among cells. I think it actually would be critical right from the get-go, as part of the process of pulling together the initial collection of cells.   This is not really a difference of opinion; I would say it’s more just a difference of emphasis.

Concluding Oceanic Mystery

And now I come to the somewhat tragic punchline of this book review.   You may have noticed that this review does not contain a link to Amazon or other online resources for purchasing Leistung’s fascinating work.   This is because the book is not currently available for purchase – and in fact it is not presently clear whether any copies of the book currently exist!

The author gave me a draft copy of Transforming Humanity on a USB stick around 9 months ago, noting to me that I was the first reader of the book, an honor that I valued somewhat at the time – but not nearly so much as I do now, in hindsight. I read the work from start to end, over a period of several weeks, but unfortunately I did not copy it onto my hard drive, merely reading it from the USB stick.   And I seem to have left that thumb drive in some hotel room somewhere; I’ve searched my laptop bag, pockets and offices very thoroughly with no success.

Furthermore, and much more worrisomely, when I emailed Maxwell Leistung with my comments on his fascinating manuscript, and some follow-up questions, I did not get any response.   My further attempts to contact him by phone met with equally little success, and when I finally got perplexed/worried and phoned his girlfriend (whom I had met once or twice passingly), she reported to me that Max had in fact disappeared several weeks earlier; and that his small yacht, the Dokonalost (Czech for “transcendence”), was also missing from its usual spot at the dock.

She noted that he had recently read Zoltan Istvan’s book The Transhumanist Wager, whose protagonist Jethro Knights spends several years sailing around the world in a small boat reading and thinking and seeking transhumanist wisdom.  Did Maxwell sail off into the blue sea in the Dokonalost, seeking to emulate Jethro Knights’ quest? If so, of course, we cannot rule out the dark possibility that the Dokonalost has become lost at sea, and Maxwell may not return until the technological resurrection that Giulio Prisco and others foresee is upon us.

Just to cloud the waters a bit further, however, another friend of Maxwell’s, who has asked to remain anonymous, noted a different option.   He recalled some late-night conversations in an Amsterdam coffeeshop, involving Max Leistung and a number of friends, focused on the possibility of secretly creating a transhumanist seastead in one of a few particular locations.   The idea being batted around was, roughly speaking, for a group of unusually talented and insightful people to get away from the stresses and psychological constraints of everyday society, and retreat elsewhere so as to focus on optimizing their own minds and bodies, to enable themselves to best confront the task of creating a positive Singularity.   After that one conversation, this friend hadn’t heard any more about it. But, as he told me, the fact of Max disappearing in a boat made him wonder.   Had Max and some others pursued this idea on their own, not including him in the in-crowd for some reason (perhaps because this friend has a wife and children, who indeed would not have been willing to plunge into such a seastead adventure, and whom he would not have wanted to leave, late-night coffeeshop speculations notwithstanding).

Is Max out there somewhere, on a platform in the ocean, or a floating concrete sphere, or a network of boats awkwardly roped together – working with a group of transhumanist cronies on implementing the ideas in Transforming Humanity among themselves personally?   Will they return from their oceanic retreat at some point, mentally refined, eager to lead a movement like the book describes?   Or will their journey have led them in some different direction, away from considering movement-building as an optimal pursuit?

I also vaguely recall Max mentioning to me his involvement in an “Oceanic Village” online discussion group – devoted to, if I may coin a phrase, “UNDER-seasteading.”   I didn’t think much of this at the time because, after all, it’s hard enough to build a workable seastead and keep the economics reasonable.    Keeping a group of people alive underwater in an appropriate habitat for a significant period of time would be a very expensive endeavor.

But yet, with the number of fresh young zillionaires churning out of Silicon Valley and other tech hubs these days, it’s hard to rule out the possibility that Max found a co-conspirator with an appropriate bankroll.   Imagine a transhumanist crew in a bubble on the ocean floor somewhere, diving and fishing and studying rationality and opening their hearts and minds to each other, and meditating on the future of the universe.   I can’t think of a more peaceful place on Earth to perfect one’s mind and soul and ponder the imponderable future.

Tempting speculations, for sure.   Wishful thinking — probably.

In any case, it’s been over 6 months now since I read the book, and there has been no word from Maxwell, and nor have I managed to dig up my or anyone else’s copy of his manuscript. So I decided to write this review, summarizing the main ideas of what Maxwell wrote based on his draft.   The quotes in the above are paraphrased based on my memory; some of my own writing style (a bit more rambling and less crisp than Max’s, I must admit) may have drifted into the phrasing, but the ideas are as he wrote them.

With luck Maxwell will return from wherever his quest has taken him and release the manuscript of Transforming Humanity for all of us to enjoy and learn from.   But in the meantime, it is still possible for others to pursue the plans and ideas he left behind.   I myself find all my time occupied with the quest to create AGI and understand the mind, along with the need to earn a living. And yet I feel that the kind of “self-organizing organization” Max projected in his book would be extremely valuable to have – and indeed, as he argued, could perhaps make a pivotal difference in the future of humanity, and the nature of our transhuman descendants.

Which leads up to the main reason I’ve written this review, in spite of the current unavailability of the book to which it refers. In part I wrote this to honor Max and his fascinating ideas and plans. But my primary purpose is more practical: I would like to spur some of you reading this to take the kind of action Max advocates in his book, and actually start a global, distributed self-organizing organization aimed at the psycho-socio-cultural upgrading of humankind.   While I don’t personally have the time to play a leading role in creating such an organization, I would certainly be a willing participant; and I would be happy to lend whatever useful advice may spew out of my mouth or my fingers, based on my related conversations with Max before his vanishing act.

“Onward and upward,” as Max liked to say.