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  1. I am listening now,  and I also wish to thank Dan, Lincoln, Chris and Tyson for the great podcast. My perspective is probably unusual for this audience: I am not a member of the LDS (there are not many of you guys here in Europe), but I am a longtime transhumanist, and my first introduction to Mormonism was through the Mormon Transhumanist Association, of which I am a member.

    Before joining the MTA, I had been developing a religious approach to transhumanism (or was that a transhumanist approach to religion?), and I was fascinated when I found out that the MTA had formulated similar ideas, and even more fascinated when I discovered, through the writings of Lincoln and other MTA members, the parallels between transhumanism and the mainstream LDS doctrine.

    I don’t really believe in the supernatural (if we define nature as all that exists, then the supernatural does not exist by definition) but I am very open to ideas of natural God(s) evolved in and with the universe, and/or natural God(s) who engineered our universe (as in the New God Argument).

    I will come to Salt Lake City for the MTA conference on April 6, and I will discuss some emerging science that could offer (still very vague) glimpses at future technologies for resurrection, reality-engineering, and theosis.

    I am also looking forward to know more about mainstream LDS doctrine. If a European non-believer, who until a few years ago thought that LDS was the name of a drug spelled by somebody under its influence, and had only a very vague Hollywood image of Mormons men in stiff black suits and Mormon ladies in long 19th centuries dresses, becomes closer to the LDS through the works of visionary prophets who believe in mind uploading and space colonization, then our universe may really have been designed by a benevolent God with a sense of humor.

    1. Giulio, I’m looking forward to your visit. Mormon scripture says God weeps, and we all know that’s sometimes not far from laughing.

  2. Great Podcast guys.  I don’t have a background in science but I am thoroughly enjoying this discussion.  I’ve only listened to the first part because I’m saving the second part for my evening walk when I can really savor it.  

    I read Dawkin’s book “The God Delusion” a while back and I was struck when he expressed that if there was a God (which he doesn’t believe at all), then  God would have had to evolve into becoming God through something akin to the evolutionary process. (eternal progression?)   (I hope that awkward sentence makes sense!) 

    Your discussion also reminds me of this great podcast with Martin Rees in which he also makes the argument that evolution is speeding up due to modern technology.  http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2011/cosmic-origami/

    Once again, this is a really great podcast.  I look forward to listening to it again so I can really absorb your ideas.

    1. Nielper, in case it interests you, I’ve written a review of “The God Delusion”: http://lincoln.metacannon.net/2010/06/inspired-by-richard-dawkins-god.html

      Also, here’s the quote (love it!) from Dawkins to which I think you’re referring:”Whether we ever get to know them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine. Their technical achievements would seem as supernatural to us as ours would seem to a Dark Age peasant transported to the twenty-first century. Imagine his response to a laptop computer, a mobile telephone, a hydrogen bomb or a jumbo jet. As Arthur C Clarke put it, in his Third Law: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ The miracles wrought by our technology would have seemed to the ancients no less remarkable than the tales of Moses parting the waters, or Jesus walking upon them. The aliens of our SETI signal would be to us like gods … In what sense, then, would the most advanced SETI aliens not be gods? In what sense would they be superhuman but not supernatural? In a very important sense, which goes to the heart of this book. The crucial difference between gods and god-like extraterrestrials lies not in their properties but in their provenance. Entities that are complex enough to be intelligent are products of an evolutionary process. No matter how god-like they may seem when we encounter them, they didn’t start that way. Science-fiction authors … have even suggested (and I cannot think how to disprove it) that we live in a computer simulation, set up by some vastly superior civilization. But the simulators themselves would have to come from somewhere. The laws of probability forbid all notions of their spontaneously appearing without simpler antecedents. They probably owe their existence to a (perhaps unfamiliar) version of Darwinian evolution …”

  3. Maybe you talk about this in the second part of the podcast, but does transhuminsm subscribe to the ideas of quantum physics and parallel universes/multiverses?  I’ll keep listening….

    1. Transhumanists have many views on quantum physics and parallel universes, and the subjects are certainly of interest to them generally.

  4. Thank you, 
    Dan, Lincoln, Chris and Tyson, for this wonderful edition of Mormon Matters. As a committed supporter of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, I deeply enjoyed and benefited from this podcast.

    I am one of the mentioned agnostics, or, more closely, atheists, in that I don’t believe that any mainstream traditional version of diety is likely to exist. More to the point, I believe that, should the slim chance such a being does exist, that being is unfathomably cruel, deeply evil, and not only not worthy of my worship, but worthy of my contempt and open rebellion.

    To the extent that the goal of the MTA and the New God Argument is to encourage faith in the potential good of our posthuman future, and to work toward that future, I am in complete agreement with Lincoln and Chris. Where I differ is in the co-opting of traditional religious terminology. I feel that doing so is deceptive and misleading. Much like the disillusionment and feelings of having been cheated in a convert to Mormonism who finds out three years in that the missionaries failed to inform him/her about many fundamental concepts, and that these same missionaries “sold” Mormonism in terms friendly to the pre-existent beliefs of the convert, I believe couching transhumanism in the language of religion sells transhumanism falsely, and cheapens it in the end. To me, sometimes it comes across as a convenient excuse to stay active in a faith community while wearing a false cloak of belief, as it were. I think there is a very real danger of accidentally fulfilling prophecies about “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

    It may be that I am simply uncomfortable with the language of religion, having been severely burned by such in the past.

    Additionally, while we in the MTA talk frequently about how the New God Argument only posits a creator marginally more benevolent than are we, I think many tend to only pay lip service to such an idea, and often, when caught up in the passion of the ideas, fall into more traditional deist language, acting as though much more of the principle points of Mormon theology are supported by the argument than actually is the case. This leads me to suspect that, for some, transhumanist interpretations of Mormonism are a mere mental exercise to justify an irrational faith in those parts of LDS theology unsupported by science.

    Regardless, I definitely believe the work being done by the MTA is valuable and important, and I am grateful to Lincoln and Chris and all the other good men and women involved. Thank you, Dan, for inviting them to Mormon Matters. 

      1. Lincoln, I think that depends on what you mean by “more benevolent.” To me, that assertion is the weakest part of the NGA. I trust that, if we are living in a created world (which seems more probable every day), it is likely our creators have become more benevolent than we currently are, if only by sheer fact that they did not destroy their own race through technology before reaching a stage in their evolution where they could create universes.

    1. If any readers are interested in the artistic side of Mormon Transhumanism, check out Gary Parker’s blog, Transfigurist Art: http://transfigurist-art.blogspot.com/

    2. To me, sometimes it comes across as a convenient excuse to stay active in a faith community while wearing a false cloak of belief, as it were”

      ” This leads me to suspect that, for some, transhumanist interpretations of Mormonism are a mere mental exercise to justify an irrational faith in those parts of LDS theology unsupported by science”

      Yikes Gary, I feel like you could’ve hung up a picture of me and pointed at it here.  For me, the New God Argument and many other popular points of discussion in the MTA serve as the strongest, if not nearly only, remnants of a faith that has transformed over the years.

      In my defense, I as easily couch the philosophical and ideological positions of transhumanism into terms of mormon doctrine as I do the other way around.

      I’m not sure what that makes me, but if anyone has got it right, I think the MTA has.  As Lincoln said in part 1, whatever gets you in the strenuous mood!

      1. Matthew, I hope you know that I meant no offense. My disagreements are more disagreements of implementation, and less of overall philosophy. 
        For instance, the NGA says nothing at all about the species – the biological design – of our universe’s creator(s). Yet in this very podcast, it was reasserted that we are created in the image of god. That’s a leap I cannot make, as it does not logically follow anything the NGA posits. In fact, it is highly likely that we are significantly different from the intelligences behind our own universe’s creation.

        But this is the problem with scavenging terminology from religion; a vast cache of baggage often gets dragged along with it, and we make such entirely unfounded assertions like, “We are created in the image of god,” and act as though such a truth is self-evident. But we base that assumption solely on the myths of the religion from which we borrow.

        Now, Lincoln may come back and say that he “meant” that we are created in their image, in the sense that we are evolutionarilly driven beings who are moving toward vast power and knowledge that is similar in kind to that of our creators, and not that we physically resemble our creators. But if you actually go back and listen to what was said in the podcast, this is entirely unclear, and it is perfectly reasonable for me to have interpreted the statement as I did, in traditional Mormon theological terms. Hence, my other disagreement with co-opting language, that it gets in the way of real communication, rather than facilitating it.

        But, again, as I said, I support the MTA, as should be clear, and very much value the work of those involved. 

        1.  Gary, I agree with you that, without further clarification, it is reasonable to interpret the “created in God’s image” statement in traditional ways. However, I think that providing a bridge to help people transition from a traditional understanding to a more nuanced understanding is very valuable. Abandoning the religious language altogether creates barriers rather than bridges.

          You are right that it is a risky approach that also enables misunderstanding. But I think this is preferable to an approach that doesn’t even make this kind of attempt.

          Additionally, while you may very well be correct that it is unlikely that we are physically like our creators, it is also entirely possible and reasonable that we are very similar to them. Many of the simulations we create are intended to simulate things very similar to what we currently experience, for a wide variety of purposes that would not be served by creating simulations vastly different from our current world. If post-humanity has similar motives, it could very well be that the traditional (Mormon, of course, not traditional Christian) view of humanity as physically in God’s image is accurate. And we can, using the traditional language, be open to both possibilities (physically similar or physically dissimilar).

          One of the things I have come to value, in addition to clarity of expression, is the power of vagueness — not vagueness intended to deceive or obfuscate, but vagueness that allows us to have common but not identical ideas. As a simple example, the term “chair” is vague, and while people might disagree about some particular applications of the term (is a bean bag a chair or not? a chaise longue?), it is extremely useful. I view the attempt to use scientific language to describe religious concepts and religious terms to describe scientific concepts in a similar light — it allows us to be open to a multiplicity of meanings and still communicate in charitable ways.

        2. I don’t believe we are the same species as God, which I believe to be perfectly in line with scripture. It’s clear that our bodies are not the same, considering ours are mortal and limited. I read “created in the image of God” as referring to embodiment, empowerment, and capacity for improvement.

        3. Gary, here are a couple thoughts in response: first, the NGA does scope the anatomy of posthumanity to be that within the possibility space stemming from human anatomy; second, anatomical evolution is not random, but rather conforms to the contours of its time and space — consider, for example, the startling anatomical similarities between sharks and dolphins, despite completely different near term evolutionary histories.

        4. Matthew, I hope you know that I meant no offense. My disagreements are more disagreements of implementation, and less of overall philosophy. ”

          Oh, certainly, none taken.  I just wanted to share my perspective as it contrasted with the one I thought you were espousing.

          I have no idea if we are created in the image of our maker(s) but the cosmology, to me, makes more sense if our creator(s) are invested in our existence and success, which would be good enough for me.

          As for language in academic discussion, certainly two parties with equal command of both jargons should use the best tools available to convey their meaning.  I don’t know how much religious terminology that would involve, or not.  I would guess, that would depend on the people.

    1. Here’s an additional link to the Sunstone article: http://transfigurism.org/assets/60/transfiguration.pdf

  5. Inspiring and pragmatic…even though not substantiated in any scientific way. At times, feels like somewhat desperate attempts of smart and good people to “stretch archaic paradigms” to 21-th century to improve humanity. The motivations and appeal are sufficiently appealing to pursue on their own without employing old framework or organised religions. 

    1. Hi Scpeptics. Which parts do you feel are not substantiated? The scientific and technological claims? The claims that religion is pertinent to the effort? Both? I’d be happy to suggest some directions in which to look for substantiation.

      1. The creative and charitable “urge”  to improve doesn’t have to come from religion – higher consciousness  via education and larger community is a better foundation for transformation.
        As far as God’s argument, yes there is a possibility that we live in a simulation of some higher evolved beings … so is the possibility that from some reasons zeros and ones in some computer misfire and I get millions of dollars accidentally transferred to my account… The only practical reason to even think of such being and simulations is to motivate yourself to strive to a better world via such inspiring ideas. We can just as well think of a spaghetti monster, invisible but good and noble and build our communities around that to improve. Organized religions served their purpose at the infancy of humanity in various ways – now it is time to grow up and use something more reliable dynamic substantiated and self-“cleansing” to rely on … with all “human driven” faults science is the best we can have coupled with humanity. After all, we are all humans species occupying this little rock and need to learn to get along if we want to live and progress. That alone and vast possibilities (if we grow up and drop all that “baggage”) is awe inspiring enough to enjoy and live… Organized religions? Well, there is still room in museums – there is already a growing “company or ancient” artifacts there to join the rest of them. I know that I won’t persuade you guys – too much cultural and family ties are there to break… but I suggest to consider this – sometimes “radical surgery” is the least painful and helpful way than gradual “therapy”. May be this is about to be the case?

        1. Sceptics,

          As mentioned in the podcast, I agree that religion is not necessary for morality; however, I disagree with the suggestion that secularism in itself is sufficient for provoking what you’ve here called the “creative and charitable urge” — what I called the “strenuous mood for compassion and creativity” in the podcast. To the extent that secularism appears to be provoking the strenuous mood, there is more than mere secularism going on. There is religion, broadly defined, at work, although I don’t insist on a static final form for religion. Something more than mere facts and figures is inspiring action.

          The best method for determining the probability of living in a computed world (or more importantly, a created world, whether computed or otherwise) is not analogous to the best method for determining the probability of winning the lottery. Whereas the latter is highly improbable to the point of being unworthy of our trust, the former is almost certain, if ever we ourselves create many worlds like those in our evolutionary history. Check out the mathematics of simulation argument (equally applicable to other forms of creation, as generalized in the Creation Argument of the New God Argument): http://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.html

          You’re certainly right that we could advocate directing our reverence toward the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but in practice that fails to provoke the strenuous mood for almost everyone. Not all ideologies are religions, and not all religions are equal. For example, judging from number of adherents, no religion has been more successful than Christianity, and it would be a serious practical error to compare Christianity with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

          At the end of your post, you appeal to awe. I appreciate that. I share the feeling. I call that religion, although in itself it would be a relatively weak ideology, since we need to connect a few more dots to go from awe to the strenuous mood for compassion and creativity. Work on that. Modern religions are forming, and you can help. Transhumanism is a great example. My position, though, as articulated in the podcast, is that Mormonism is a Transhumanism. I think there are more detriments than benefits to starting from scratch.

          1.  May I suggest a quick possibility to consider regarding your comment” no religion has been more successful than Christianity” Is it possible that success of Christianity is attributed mostly to the “lucky” political historical circumstance when it was conceived and shortly after supported..Also, if you are defying Trans humanism as religion it is fine (I am not worried about the label) but I hope you agree that this has little to do with what people think if a religion. Transumanism in religious desquise could be a Trojan Horse to become a funeral service to a traditional religions when people learn to think on their own, forfeit the idea of unsupported belief and suspended judgement and crowd mentality – the infamous landmarks of organized relisions of today.
            Thanks for the link – quite amusing.

          2. Sceptics,

            We can attribute anything to luck, but that doesn’t help us learn. For example, when a scientist appeals to chance, that’s just a euphemism for either apathy or ignorance, the latter being just fine so long as it’s not intentionally permanent.

            I agree that many religious persons define “religion” in terms of their own, revealing their dogmatism. I find this is also true among many atheists, who insist on definitions of “religion” that match their own history with religion. Both are problems, impeding progress toward better religion.

            … glad you enjoyed the list of skeptical failures. 🙂

          3.  Good luck with “new religion”. I hope it won’t involve some strange rituals and “funny hats” like the Catholics

          4. Thanks for the good will, Sceptics, but I don’t need a new religion, except to the extent my Mormonism (complete with its strange rituals and funny hats) should continue to evolve. If it’s not alive, it’s not Mormonism.

          5.  I guess, we have different definitions of religion. Yours is something pragmatic, dynamic science and evidence based, and humanity focused and empowering… and the one that is based on unchaning deity of some sort, obedience, and rituals, and sumbission and suspension of free will and judgment, the one that the rest of believers in the world adhere. Nice 🙂

            P.S. Re-occurring costume changes would be another way of keeping a religion somewhat fresh

    2. In the mean time, Scpeptics, this list may humor you: http://lincoln.metacannon.net/2007/07/skeptical-of-ideas-proposed-by.aspx

      1.  I loved reading that. Show that even bright people make dumb comments. I hope that list is not immune to comments made by religious “inspired” leaders, today’s prophets and such. In the end, not matter where a claim came from, ultimately each of us has to make a call if that is true or false. And that seems to undermine “obedience” – one of the most praised virtues of most religions.  So if in the end, we are responsible to make such decisions, why can’t we find in us that source of strenuous mood for charity and progress?

  6. Wow! Dan, I just finished listening. You’ve done a fantastic job with the post production on this. Thanks so much for the invitation to participate in the discussion at Mormon Matters.

  7. I loved this episode. I was thinking about transhumanism recently when I was talking with a friend about the existence of the soul. I think the ideas you guys discussed here relate to that. I thought of a few models for the soul ranging from the traditional to the more naturalistic. I, like Dan, tend to think of everything as being “natural”, even things we might think of as supernatural. Of course the soul could be something like a spirit that can live in space and time separate form our bodies that we traditionally thing of. But also, I was thinking of something like the simulation model that was mentioned. I was calling it the “Matrix” model but the idea is similar that this universe is a simulation and that our real “soul” is either outside of this simulation or is itself simulated. The last thing I thought of was that the soul is simply the arrangement of matter that composes our brains. It’s like a set of information. It would of course be quite fluid since our brains change over time and one could argue that our identity is just as fluid. The soul in this last model certainly exists, we just don’t usually think of it as a soul. But with future possibilities of mind uploading this lends for the possibility of technological resurrection and immortality. Transhumanism just opens up so many interesting ideas in philosophy, religion, anthropology, economics, etc.

    1. Todd, yes! Religious Transhumanists delve into both spirit persistence/resurrection scenarios you’ve described. Giuio, who commented above, is particularly interested in exploring naturalistic possibilities for resurrection. My preferred (speculative) hypothesis is quantum archeology (think genealogy on steroids), mostly because it inspires a less passive approach to the problem than does trusting that the matrix architect maintains external backups, so to speak.

      Here’s a blog post on spirit as information: http://lincoln.metacannon.net/2009/05/bednar-suggests-spirit-is-information.aspx

      Here’s a blog post that relates our genealogical work to quantum archeology: http://lincoln.metacannon.net/2010/05/resurrection-is-natural-consequence-of.html

      Here’s another blog post on quantum archeology: http://lincoln.metacannon.net/2011/08/quantum-archeology-resurrected-you.html

  8. Where can I read more about this in the writings of early church leaders. Links? Weren’t Orson and Parkey Pratt interested in these kinds of things?

    1. Nielper, the Mormon Transhumanist Association maintains a great quote library related to these subjects: http://community.transfigurism.org/quotes

      In particular, I recommend that you look at the section with quotes from Mormon authorities on science and technology: http://community.transfigurism.org/quotes/mormon-authorities-on-science-and-technology

  9. No nerdy comment here. 😉 Instead I’d like to approach this from a position of teasing out a religious implication of Mormon Transhumanism that you weren’t able to discuss in your fabulous but short podcasts.

    I can see how posthumanity could provide eternal life for posthumans (through increased health and longevity, perhaps), but how do you imagine posthumans could provide opportunities for eternal life, immortality, and/or resurrection for homo sapiens? You mentioned something about simulations for ancestors. Is this one of the problems for which you were hoping to suggest a solution with simulations?

    1.  I just read Todd Dekker’s comment and Lincoln’s response to it. I think that mostly answers my (much less nerdy!) question.

      1. Ammie, yeah. Summarizing briefly from the exchange with Todd and the links I shared, there are multiple hypothetical technological approaches to resurrection, including both external preservation of information to be used by our posthuman creators and internal preservation of information to be used by us. I favor the latter hypothesis for practical reasons. To what extent does that not answer your question? I’d be happy to elaborate further. By the way, did you know that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Spencer Kimball and other Mormon authorities taught that transfiguration and resurrection are ordinances we would perform for each other? That seems to fall in line nicely with the hypothesis that technology could enable such ordinances. Here are some example quotes:

        Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 170: “Now the doctrine of translation is a power which belongs to this Priesthood. There are many things which belong to the powers of the Priesthood and the keys thereof, that have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world; they are hid from the wise and prudent to be revealed in the last times. Many have supposed that the doctrine of translation was a doctrine whereby men were taken immediately into the presence of God, and into an eternal fullness, but his is a mistaken idea. Their place of habitation is that of the terrestrial order, and a place prepared for such characters He held in reserve to be ministering angels unto many planets, and who as yet have not entered into so great a fullness as those who are resurrected from the dead. ‘Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.'”

        Brigham Young, Brigham Young Addresses, Volume 2, Page 100: “I have friends on the earth, for God would raise them up for me to do my work. That is not all; by and by the Lord will say to the sleeping dust, awake and come forth out of your graves. I am on hand; the Lord wakes me up or sends somebody to do it that possesses the keys of the resurrection. My dust is waked up; my spirit is re-united to it, and it is made a celestial body filled with immortality and eternal life.”

  10. Great discussion! The part I’m still noodling with the most is Lincoln’s definition of “religion” as “anything that provokes the strenuous mood in humanity” (or something like that). I’ve never thought of it that way before. And I wonder, like Tyson seemed to be implying, if conceptualizing religion that broadly has any drawbacks? (For one, could anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists who study “religion” use this definition in a meaningful way?)

    1.  Hi Tyler. Within the sociology of religion in particular, I think the definition posited by Lincoln would be highly controversial. Some of the most prominent contemporary sociologists of religion (Rodney Stark, Christian Smith, many others) still insist on defining religion in relation to beliefs in the supernatural. But I think within the sociology of culture more generally, the more broad definition would be received more graciously. And this is part of the reason why the soc of religion has kind of become ghetto-ized. In my opinion, Durkheim and Weber and other important foundational theorists would side with the broad definition. In fact, to phrase the definition in Weberian terms, religion is ideology and practice that instills “value rationality” (which is something similar to the strenuous mood). Durkheim explicitly rejected the definition of religion that is the most widely accepted among sociologists of religion.

      1. Hmmm. I’ve never heard of “value rationality” before now. But given a quick Googling, I’m very interested. Thanks for the spark! I’ll be looking into more into Weber, for sure.  

  11. Also, it’s interesting that, although I find the MTA position (and the NGA, specifically) to be very reasonable, I just don’t *feel* compelled (at least not yet!) to really lean into it and trust it. In other words, it doesn’t provoke the “strenuous mood” in me! This makes me wonder about how much of my seeking and trusting is really about aesthetics–connecting with ideas and actions that *feel* right or good to me–rather than about logic. And that makes me wonder more about the makeup of the MTA’s members, what kind of folks these are ideas are really connecting with. Specifically, do you have any data on vocational makeup you could share?

    As an applied psychologist who studies youth and their experiences, I’m keenly interested in the what-it’s-likeness of being human in the here-and-now. And so it’s hard for me to get worked up into a “strenuous mood” about transhumanism and posthumanity. I easily agree that transhumanism sounds important, and that the MTA (and NGA) are quite striking, but these notions just don’t rouse my passion for life (like they seem to do for Lincoln, Chris, and the other MTA-ers). That said, I’ll leave the door open, because, hey, who knows?Maybe someday!?

    1.  This is great, Tyler. What kinds of things *do* invoke the strenuous mood for you? You mentioned the “here-and-now”; it seems to me that the insights of transhumanism are quite connected to the here and now as well as the future.

      I don’t know that we have vocational demographics for members of the MTA. Perhaps we can add this to the surveys we regularly conduct.

      1. Good question, Chris. This is a fairly generic reply, but most of the things that get me into the strenuous mood involve understanding and promoting the well-being of people.  Engaging in applied psychology (my profession) almost always does the trick (my work focuses on promotion of mental health and positive psychology among youth); engaging in Mormonism sometimes does the trick (to the extent that teachings and actions build community and cultivate better people). That said, I see the obvious overlap with the interests and aims of transhumanism (which is why I’m so intrigued with it!). Yet there’s something about the *method* and the *focus* of transhumanism (at least as I understood it from listening to this podcast) that just doesn’t jive with my current preferences for method and focus. And I really do think it’s just that–a disconnect of *preference,* given my understanding.

        I get the feeling that transhumanism’s methods for enhancing the well-being of people is very tech-oriented (i.e., creating non-human things that help enhance humanity). I’ve really got no problem with that–in fact, I love all the tech-stuff that enhances my life–but what gets me in the strenuous mood is methods that are grounded solely in human relationships (thus non-techie) and center around inner work (e.g., the personal cultivation of mindfulness). That said, I did hear lots of talk on the podcast about how transhumanism is for enhancing compassion and benevolence, and I’m very interested to hear how it might advocate for advancing human virtues through less-techie means.

        As far as focus, the trust in “posthumanity” is another disconnect in preference for me. I’ve got nothing against faith–I recognize it’s necessity in everything we do–and I’ve got lots of trust in humanity itself. But the posthumanity notion is too futuristic for me to wrap my mind around in a meaningful way (may because it’s just too new or too foreign?). I feel like I get plenty of strenuous-moodness by just looking around me, observing the suffering and oppression of others, and trying to figure out how to play a small part in ameliorating that *right now.* However, that’s just my present take on it. I’d be very interested to hear how you and Lincoln might reframe the situation, to make an added-value case for trusting in posthumanity.

        Looking forward to further thoughts from you…  

    2. Tyler, we collect demographics on MTA members, but as Chris mentioned, profession is not one of the demographics we’ve collected to date. We should look into that. In case you’re interested, our 2010 member survey results are here (and 2011 results will be available in April): http://transfigurism.org/pages/about/member-survey-results/

      That aside, the reason I’m a Mormon Transhumanist rather than just a plain old vanilla Transhumanist is because it’s the Mormonism that inspires me. There is, however, something more than the emotional side to consider when reflecting on our inspiration. As I’m sure you’d agree, we should also take into consideration feasibility. In my experience, the emotional part of inspiration has much more to do with the way things should be than the way things necessarily are. So I try to temper the emotional side with the rational side, allowing each to affect the other. I’m reminded of Joseph Smith’s “Try the Spirits” sermon, in which he warns us to be careful not to follow inspiration that is not accompanied with knowledge. It’s one thing to provoke the strenuous mood generally, and it’s another to provoke it in a practical way. Only the latter will matter in the long run.

      I’ll add, too, that I share your concern with any excessive emphasis on other times and places. Such results in escapism and apathy toward the here and now. When I consider the future, I try to ask myself: what difference does it make now whether I believe one way or another about the future? In some cases it makes a difference, and in others it does not. The heaven I care about is the one we should make here on Earth. The immortality I care about is the one we should live as an extension of our present bodies. When we put heaven out there, or when we posit the requirement to die before gaining immortality, we’re engaged in nihilism.

      Accordingly, the aspect of Mormon Transhumanism that really gets me going is the emphasis on our ability to make a difference here and now. The prophecies of transfiguration and resurrection to immortality are not something to wait for, but rather entail specific actions to engage in now, such as genealogy, genetics, history, neurology, etc. The prophecies of the renewal of this world and the creation of worlds without end, likewise, entail actions to engage in now, such as recucling, ecology, information technology, cosmology, etc. Too much religion has urged us to focus on pie in the sky. Transhumanism helps counteract that without excessive skepticism toward pie in the sky. There’s still a net present value to hope.

      1. Lincoln,

        Many thanks for your reply. I very much agree with your sentiments on balancing reason and emotion when making decisions and faith commitments. Nevertheless, one of the “wild facts of the universe” (to use William James’ phrasing) is that even after such balancing, folks will still make radically different decisions/commitments, many of which may be deemed subjectively (or objectively) “practical.” So much is contingent on personal history and context, is it not? Yet as long as the strenuous mood leads to bettering humanity, I’m all for it! Thus why I’m intrigued with the MTA and NGA, although transhumanism doesn’t (yet?) stir my soul to action. 

        As far as your views of heaven and immortality go, I’m with you! I feel we are very much of “one heart and one mind” in that respect. However, like I mentioned in my reply to Chris (above), I can’t yet see the value-added in lending faith to transhumanism as opposed to anchoring oneself in traditional humanism, as I feel that the latter -ism does a nice job of provoking the strenuous mood in me (for practical purposes) already. Like I also said above, though, I’m certainly open to hearing alternative perspectives on this issue.

        Lastly, I’m very interested in discussing how transhumanism (and Mormon Transhumanism, specially) can and does make a difference in the here-and-now. My take from the podcast (given the examples used and content overviewed) is that transhumanism is quite futuristic and high-tech oriented, yet recent comments from you and Chris lead me to believe that these aspects may have been overemphasized (unintentionally) in the podcast? That said, I’d love to chat about how transhumanism is relevant to a low-tech (yet very scientifically inclined), present-oriented person like myself. 🙂

        1. Tyler, there’s certainly a great deal of diversity within and between our desires, and thus diversity in that which affects them. Accordingly, one of my favorite aspects of Joseph’s cosmology is its expansive allowance for worlds without end and heavens as diverse as the stars. On the other hand, as I imagine you’d agree, we shouldn’t mistake moral relativism for compassion. For all our diversity, we’ve yet much in common. We should organize according to our commonalities while making room for diversities that do not oppress. Of course, that’s easier to say than to do in many instances, and thus again the importance of an ongoing commitment to reconciliation.

          I identify as a Transhumanist rather than a Humanist for reasons similar to those I identity as a Mormon Transhumanist rather than a Transhumanist. Generally speaking, I don’t have disagreements with Humanism, but Transhumanism is the articulation of Humanism that explains my general agreement, as Mormon Transhumanism is the articulation of Transhumanism that explains my general agreement there. As Mormonism is a Transhumanism, so Transhumanism is a Humanism. However, I’d argue that Transhumanism is more consistent Humanism than are many other interpretations of Humanism. Some Humanisms become inauthentic due to their relatively static interpretations of humanity, a species that has never been static, and is becoming increasingly dynamic. In my estimation, Humanism is particularly authentic when it acknowledges and embraces the notion that humanity has always sought to extend and overcome itself. That’s Transhumanism: Humanism aimed at Posthumanism. Here’s an article on “Posthuman Dignity” that may interest you: http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/dignity.html

          Transhumanism certainly emphasizes technology. Some Transhumanists do that at the expense of the warmth and light of our humanity, but that’s an immaturity in their understanding and characterization of the ideology. The emphasis need not and should not detract from anything beautiful about humanity. To the contrary, the technology emphasis of Transhumanism is best understood as an empowerment of human compassion and creativity, as mentioned in the podcast. Nonetheless, technology merits the emphasis it receives in Transhumanism. Technology is human extension and transcendence: our will beyond ourselves. Through it, we can empower every aspect of our being beyond present capabilities. Artists will become better artists. Politicians and scientists will surpass themselves. The greatest of meditators will achieve previously unimaginable degrees of awareness and bliss. There’s a stodgy old arrogance that asserts humanity is sufficient as we are, and that technology just gets in the way or distracts. The truth is that technology can do some terribly disruptive things, while also enabling the sublime. We face those risks and opportunities now more than ever before, and the rate of change is accelerating. We ignore or marginalize this at our peril.

          1. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Lincoln. You’ve given me plenty to chew on! I’m generally agreeable with all you’ve said above. But again, my biggest concern, which may stem from my lack of understanding and insight into technological applications, is *how* technology can actually enhance the psychological experiences that move us toward greater goodness: connectedness, engagement, compassion, hope, mindfulness, gratitude, etc. Although I recognize the importance of the many other applications of technology–to improve memory, enhance longevity, prevent environmental harm, and so on–I haven’t yet seen compelling examples of how technology can help enhance this kind of inner soul-work (for lack of a better term) that I, personally, happen to be most concerned with. That said, I’m not denying the potential; in fact, I very much hope technology can do such things! Like I said, I just haven’t yet *seen* how that has, is, will, or could play out. So if you’ve got any thoughts or articles to send my way regarding those issues, I’d be very interested to hear/read them.

          2. Tyler, there are some Transhumanists that focus on this question: how can technology enhance our psychology? I’m going to ping some of them and see what articles they’d recommend. In the mean time, I’ll suggest that an important (if not the most important) application of technology in this domain will be real time brain scanning, providing a feedback loop. I imagine the results will be something like those of the mirror: we became more beautiful physically as we gained greater access to our own physical appearance, and we’ll become more beautiful spiritually as we gain greater access to our spiritual appearance. Hopefully more to come …

          3. I’ve never considered the mirror analogy in relation to the brain/mind before. Very interesting!

          4. Tyler, I received a response from James Hughes of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (http://ieet.org). James is a sociologist (different sociologist than the one I mentioned in connection with the founding of the MTA), a Transhumanist, and formerly a Buddhist monk.

            He provided an annotated moral enhancement bibliography, and links to the referenced articles. I’ll share them with you through Facebook. Anyone else that would like access to these materials can contact me at lincoln@metacannon.net.

            James also commented: “Instead of ‘psychological experiences’ however I think it makes more sense to parse the topic into innate moral sentiments, like disgust, empathy and outrage, and moral reasoning about right and wrong, e.g. utilitarian versus absolutist. Both things can be enhanced or at least changed by biological characteristics, drugs and situations.”

  12. Tyson,

    I was impressed with your measured (system 2) responses given that you could not possibly engage this topic at the level of these two ringers.  Kahneman would have been pleased that you didn’t fall into WYSIATI  judgements.  A great book though – Thinking, Fast and Slow – one of the few I’ve turned right around and reread.  If everyone took that book to heart the world would get to a transhumanist utopia a whole lot sooner 🙂

    Lincoln and Christopher,

    Excellent job presenting MT.  Fascinating stuff.  I’ll check out your links.  Let’s hope the horizon for quantum computing is closer than it seems and we won’t start warring over rarer rare earths in the meantime.

    Thanks to all,


    1. JTurn, here’s the latest on quantum computing — progress: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9224670/IBM_touts_quantum_computing_breakthrough

  13. I think every person has her/his own triggers for the strenuous mood, and triggers are probably based on powerful emotional reactions, often (but not always) acquired at a very early age. I remember that watching Clarke/Kubrick’s 2001 in 1968, at 11, and watching Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon a few months later, totally blew my heart and mind, and I have been a transhumanist ever since.

    To me, visions of wonderful cosmic adventures and our manifest destiny to leave the Earth, roam the universe as uploads, and evolve to Godhood, are very powerful emotional triggers for the strenuous mood. They give me the strength to cope with the heartaches of life, the drive to make here-and-now a better place, and I believe it makes me a better person.

    Most Transhumanists (including me) are not very good at communicating emotions, which may depend on the fact that most of us come from a science and engineering background. There are, however, more and more exceptions, for example Jason Silva, and of course the MTA. I think embedding transhumanist vision in religion is a way to reach hearts besides minds, and therefore I find the MTA “experiment” totally fascinating.

    1. Giulio,

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. I couldn’t agree more that our “triggers” for the strenuous mood run deeper than logic. As far as I can remember, I’ve loved social sciences and haven’t been too keen on the “hard” sciences. I’ve tried to engage many works of biology and cosmology, but they just don’t do the trick for me. Something about them leaves me feeling, well, rather bored. And that’s just me. That said, I’d really like to meet a transhumanist who also happens to be a good old-fashioned sociologist, social worker, or social psychologist, to chat with them about how they see transhumanism informing and relating to their work. That’s be great fun, for me!

          1.  Hi Tyler. I helped found the MTA and also happen to know a thing or two about sociology. James Hughes, who is another prominent transhumanist, is also a sociologist. He’s not a member of the MTA, but he has been supportive of MTA efforts, and spoke last year at a conference on spirituality and transhumanism that was organized in part by the MTA.

            I don’t think the way that transhumanism relates to sociology is really that different from the way it relates to any other domain.

            In terms of the discipline itself, embracing technological advance will become more and more of a necessary condition for the possibility of meaningful scientific advance. This is in part because of emerging means of understanding complex data. It’s also in part because of emerging means of communicating findings and engaging in collaboration.

            Not sure if that answers your question.

          2. Indeed, it does. Thanks, Joseph. I’m looking at this idea a bit differently now, but this certainly makes sense. In the beginning, I wasn’t thinking so much about technology in relation to general inquiry tools (for enhancing data management and communication) as I was about in relation to specific psychological intervention tools (for facilitating the the development of altruism or gratitude, for example). But now I’m starting to see things the way you described it. I hope that makes sense . . .

  14. @106c08cfe1146ac3d701cbe68e0a8845:disqus  “I get the feeling that transhumanism’s methods for enhancing the well-being of people is very tech-oriented (i.e., creating non-human things that help enhance humanity).”

    Well, eye-glasses are certainly non-human things, but they do give people a much better quality of life (I could not read this article without my glasses). My daughter lives far away, but thanks to Skype I see her often, which makes me much happier. When we will have WiFi chips implanted in the brain with two-way neural interfaces, we will be able to be with our kids and our loved ones anytime, anywhere…

    In general, though I am a scientist by training and intellectual inclination, I am not very much interested in technology per-se. I know that I could learn how to fix my car myself if I wanted to, but I prefer to leave it to others who know it already and go watch a sunset. What I am interested in, is how technology (among other things) can be used to give persons like us more happiness and a better quality of life.

    1. Agreed. Technology is wonderful, for all those reasons you listed above and many more. I’m just as grateful for my laptop computer, cell phone, medical diagnostic tools (I recently had a very high-tech hearing test done), and Skype as the next guy. However, like I said in reply to Lincoln (see above), I haven’t yet seen how technology can really enhance our inner soul-work. How will non-human things help us humans become more grateful, compassionate, mindful, loving, and so on? That’s why I’m keenly interested in. And there’s the key issue: I have more faith that technology will make me immortal before it will make me kind!

      1. Tyler, to expand on this thought, I don’t think technology can be used ethically to make you kind. Barring coercive acts, which would arguably make you less of the person you are rather than more, technology can only provide greater opportunities.

        1. Good point, Lincoln. It would’ve been more accurate to say “substantially facilitate my cultivation of kindness,” but that just wouldn’t have sounded as pithy. My overstep, no doubt. 🙂

        2. I agree with Lincoln, using technology coercively to make people kind would be a step on a very, very slippery slope toward an authoritarian state.
          I think most people are naturally kind, but only act kind when they can afford to. Those with decent living condition and a good quality of like can find more time and attention to help others. This is not true for everyone, but it is true enough to persuade me that improving living conditions and quality of life for everyone would result in a kinder world.

      2. A relatively small mutation on chromosome 7 produces Williams syndrome, which, notwithstanding its attending developmental disorders, produces a very cheerful disposition, empathy, social ease, and strong language skills in people.

        I can see science figuring out how to get around the negative bits and developing genetic engineering techniques to make kinder more compassionate people who have “no [biological] disposition to do evil.”  Is this the MTH millennium? The end of there needing to be an opposition in all things? A brave new world?  Just a thought.

        1. Yes, I can imagine scientists figuring that out, too. Yet, like Lincoln implied above, there’s a lot of worries that come along with that. That’s why I think I’m more inclined, for now, to go with Giulio’s line of thinking (above): using science to improve conditions and therefore enhance opportunities. That provokes much less anxiety in me then having to consider multiple BNW scenarios. 

          1. I intuitively agree. The dangers of “playing god” – Frankenstein and all that.

            But it is not a black and white issue in my mind. 

            People already take drugs to enhance their “god-given” cognition to and overcome genetic predispositions toward depression and psychosis. 

            Borderline personality disorder has a genetic signature that is not responsive to drugs (yet). These people suffer miserable lives because they cannot sustain relationships – their empathy-blindness leads to them breaking trust and an inability to restore trust.

            What is autism can be “cured” by gene therapy?

            The body produces its own “trust drug (oxytocin) which some people enjoy greater amounts of due to the luck of their DNA

            People unconsciously and consciously “size up” potential mates based on features that signal good genetics.  This is genetic engineering of sorts.

            Many people respond to their own children’s  pro-social dispositions and abilities as blessings, not realizing that these have significant genetic components, as does “religiosity” (shown by twin studies).  What does it mean to consider a lucky combination of genes as a blessing and what are the ethical reasons to resist genetic enhancement if it alleviates suffering and leaves to more productive lives as long as it does not turn people into zombies – preserves a sense of agency and responsibility.

            I do not know the answers to these questions.  But it seems to fall within the mission of the MTH to help work out.

            Thanks again


          2. Agreed. Autism is something that I’d be happy to genetically-engineer out of existence, and I’d be just as enthusiastic to get rid of a host of other serious mental illnesses and developmental disorders, like you mentioned. But run-of-the-mill depression? Anxiety? That’s where things get a bit trickier for me, because these sorts of “negative” psychological experiences can be helpful–in the right situations and under the right conditions they’re actually functional–and humanity has maintained them for good reason (if we go with the evolutionary psychology narrative). 

            Yet like you said, where do you draw the line? No clue! I can’t contribute much to that discussion, but after hearing this podcast and joining this little dialogue here, I’m hopeful that they’re are some wise, optimistic, compassionate folks in the world who can. 

          3. Tyler, I think we need to be careful to consider the desires of those whose “anomalies” we would like to “genetically-engineer out of existence”. Elizabeth Moon has a great novel called The Speed of Dark that examines the benefits of (high-functioning) autism from the perspective of the autistic person. It deals with a near-future scenario in which a cure for autism has been discovered, and an employer who specializes in hiring autistic people (these kinds of companies exist today; e.g., Aspiritech) that wants to require its employees to receive the treatment.

            Having said that, it’s hard enough for me to know what I should desire differently from within the context of my current desires, so it’s a tricky balance.

          4. I couldn’t agree more, Chris. I was referring more to individuals with severe Autism (characterized by mental retardation, lack of functional language, frequent self-harm behaviors, little theory-of-mind, etc.) But even in these severe cases, human agency shouldn’t be trampled or ignored. A tricky balance, indeed!

            BTW, sounds like an interesting book. I’ll have to look into that one. Thanks for the reference!

          5. JTurn, working through these kinds of questions, and encouraging the working through of these kinds of questions, is certainly part of what the MTA is about.

            The official purpose of the MTA is to promote the Transhumanist Declaration ( http://transfigurism.org/pages/about/transhumanist-declaration/ ) and the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation ( http://transfigurism.org/pages/about/mormon-transhumanist-affirmation/ ).

            One of the principles in the Transhumanist Declaration is: “Research effort needs to be invested into understanding these prospects. We need to carefully deliberate how best to reduce risks and expedite beneficial applications. We also need forums where people can constructively discuss what should be done, and a social order where responsible decisions can be implemented.”

          6. Yes, I agree in principle.  I read the Transhumanist Declaration prior to my post,  Personally am not inclined to add a metaphysical layer.

            My biggest concern is about inequality – a few enjoying privileged access to what will start out as very expensive “enhancements” leading to advantages that further exacerbate the growing divide between the haves and have nots.

            Best wishes

          7. Good point. But it seems to depend on what *kind* of “enhancements” were talking about. For example, if it’s a traditional cognitive (e.g., attention regulation) enhancement, there’s the possibility of facilitating (albeit unintentionally) greater “achievement gaps” between the upper and lower classes. (The rich-kids, who already have the environmental–and probably genetic– advantage, now get an extra biological boost too? Unjust!) But if it’s an altruism or empathy enhancement, that seems like a different story. (The rich-kids, realizing they won the environmental and genetic lottery, become more likely to pay it forward and help out the less fortunate. Right on!) 

    1. Hi Chaddydad. It’s certainly unusual, but it’s also actually the way some persons self-identify. The basic idea is that such persons believe God just doesn’t exist yet, but that someday we’ll become God, as most Mormons believe.

  15. Lincoln,hi.its called exaltation,Jesus said that our Father in heaven  wants us to have all things and Christ said wee are to be like him.and for God to say he wants us to be able to have all that he has and become as he is.I see no other way to understand this.and we can only get there through or with his gift of learning and after wee are resurected wee will have a perfect body and the knowing of who wee were before we gained a body of flesh to learn with.satan has the same knowing and he still after tens or hundreds of thousand years has not been able to gain anny form of body wee must be awfull arogant to think wee are more intelligent than he.they are trying to take the short cut around God and it has never happened so far.theese people should not insult those who are God loving,God fearing mormons,science only gets us as far as God allows us to.none will surpass the Lord Jesus and Heavenly Father.wee will obtain perfection but not the way theese men think.No LDS who has read the bible and other sacred wrightings of the church think they will become God or replace him.but be like him and with him.He is our eternal Father,and he Loves us.What good,loving father wants less for his children than he has for himself,Same thing with God the Father.I believe he was once like wee are,and he had a Father in heaven too.I hope good things for you my friend.I know our Father in heaven lives and is real flesh and bone,just like the resurected perfected Christ,love you bro.God bless you and your family.

    1. Chaddydad, I share your trust that God already exists, and I agree that most closely reflects our scriptures. I disagree with your statement that work to become like God is necessarily an effort to get around God. Certainly in some cases the desire to become God is arrogant, but that depends entirely on how one understands God. If we understand God in terms of compassion, there’s no way to get around any God to become God, but rather we must become God together. Although I don’t share their perspective, the Mormons I know who don’t believe God exists yet are just being honest, yet they seem to be just as focused on working toward compassionate Godhood as most other Mormons I know. I also disagree with your statement that such Mormons must not have read the scriptures. To the contrary, I know they have. Many who have read the scriptures and lost faith in a presently existing God have just given up religion. Would you prefer that atheist Mormons do that? Just give up? Or would you celebrate with me their faith despite their unbelief? So far as I can tell, God cares far less whether we assert belief in God than whether we act in such a way as to become more like God. The latter, in my estimation, is the greater expression of faith. 

  16. I have recently been reading some of the works of a religious LDS heretic who arrives at many of his conclusions using computers and keyword crunching software to extract information from the four standard works.

    He uses this technology to interconnect related passages of scripture that would be pretty difficult to interconnect without the use of computers, software and algorithms.

    My questions is, would he be considered a transhumanist?

  17. Hi WordCruncher. Strictly speaking, we’re all transhumans because we all use technology to extend our abilities. We’re Transhumanists to the extent we explicitly embrace and advocate the idea of ethically doing so, to the point of evolving beyond humanity.

  18. This was a very interesting and informative podcast…and demonstrated how out of touch I am since I was unaware of a World Transhumanist Association…not to mention a Mormon Transhumanist Association. Certainly the aspirations seem noble and appear to be entered into with open eyes in that technology has brought many blessings to mankind but has also allowed us to commit some of our worst atrocities.

    These atrocities point to the fact that we will continue to need to incorporate religion into our lives for a sound grounding in reality and ethics. The modern secular approach to ethics did not relieve us of slavery, eugenics, and so on, and science cannot begin an analysis without certain moral truths (“report all data honestly”) already in play. Point in fact, Sam Harris denies the Christian worldview but cannot help living as if it were true.

    I only wish Ray Bradbury could have lived to be a part of Transhumanism. He was a man of great insight.

  19. Pingback: Exploring Mormon Transhumanism – faith again

  20. This sounds amazing. Is there a Mormonism and Reason movement as well? I’m compelled to listen just to see how palpable the cognitive dissonance might be, else if not extreme, then how strict the compartmentalization.

    How much can an intellect advance without letting go of the most basic and obvious of fallacies? Technology is achieved with objective and verified knowledge. Religion is just the opposite, and Mormonism especially is anti-objective evidence when it suits the purpose of it’s self-identified believers. I encourage any of you who would disagree with that claim to check out the evidence talked about on the Naked Mormonism Podcast as an example.

    Simply pointing out where ideas do not oppose each other, while ignoring where they are clearly opposed doesn’t really connect them. However, maybe this is a good opportunity to pull people toward at least identifying that their myths are simply untestable hypotheses. Hypotheses which should not be taken any more seriously than any fiction novel. Hypotheses which should not be forced coerced or in any way tied into one’s group or family identity, because they are unfounded and should be disagreed about in every possible way.

    If any transhumanist mormons would have the ability to see the value in say a Humanist Mormon movement, the next logical step would be that they would see the greater value in simply being Humanists and nothing more. We as a species require only one in-group if we are to benefit from in-groups at all. And that group cannot be based on what people only pretend to know about the unknown.

    I’m curious to see the personal evolution of those who are a part of this concept, Mormon Transhumanism.

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