Money, Markets and Politics

I was caught up in the financial market turmoil some year ago – well since before the ‘credit crunch’ bankrupted Northern Rock as an independent financial institution. With the demise of Lehman Brothers, the takeover of HBOS by Lloyds TSB, and AIG on the brink, I thought I’d give the matter some thought. As a rationalist, these events have spurred me to find out whether it is the possession and exercise of such immense wealth and instruments of financial leverage that drive the world, or whether it is anything more.   If it is just money that drives politics and world order, then we really are in trouble- not least because there are seismic changes in the characteristics of those who hold the levers of ‘money’. Most of our politicians are complicit in such changes and guilty of yielding to those with such intruments irrespective of ideology or moral fibre. It is almost impossible to be elected to many high offices unless one has such wealthy benefactors and bankers.

Let me start off with a paper that I was reading recently from Ethical Politics by Anitra Nelson that I think hit the ‘nail on the head’ in so many ways. For me, it compounds my view that absolute values have no place in a modern liberal democracy:

“The root of all evil” is the title Alan Macfarlane gives to a brief discussion of the social effect of money in a collection of articles on The Anthropology of Evil (Parkin, ed., 1985). Here Macfarlane briefly explores the basis of the idea that money is evil. He points to the obvious connection between money and evil demonstrated in the greed, consumerism and profiteering characteristic of capitalism. “Yet money, and all it symbolizes, is the root of all evil in a deeper sense than this,” writes Macfarlane. And he (71-2) elaborates:

“Viewed from outside the system, money can be seen to do something even more insidious. It subtly eliminates the very concept of evil. Or, rather, it makes it impossible to discriminate between good and evil…’Money’, which is a short-hand way of saying capitalistic relations, market values, trade and exchange, ushers in a world of moral confusion. This effect of money has been most obvious where a capitalistic, monetary economy has clashed with another, opposed, system. Thus it is anthropologists, who have…noted how money disrupts the moral as well as the economic world. As Burridge, for example, writes of the effect of money in Melanesia: money complicates the moral order, turning what was formerly black and white into greyness. Money, he argues, ‘…invites a complex differentiation and multiplication of the parts and qualities of man’ (Burridge 1969:45). More broadly, it is money, markets and market capitalism that eliminate absolute moralities. Not only is every moral system throughout the world equally valid, as Pascual noted, but, within every system, whatever is, is right.

I present this quote because I believe it raises an issue that is at the heart of the problem of Ethical Politics… In particular I worry about the political implications of accepting the labour theory of value. This is where I return to the Macfarlane quote, to Ethical Politics and money. The labour theory of value suggests that monetary exchange is rational in terms of socially necessary labour time. That implies an exchange of labour and the products necessary to sustain that labour giving the capitalist system rationality that I don’t believe it embodies. A bun fight theory of exchange might appear to be no theory at all, but war is war. Why is market exchange necessarily any more rational than gift exchange, love or war? Its quasi-mathematical appearance, made possible by the use of money, is a primary deception.

If the labour theory of value was correct monetary exchange might remain a useful technique to use in the transitional stage to socialism. Marx regards dispensing with the state and money as essential. But, in the same way as taking over the state was a new stage in the proletarian revolution, some have argued that monetary exchange can be adapted to socialist ends, at least temporarily. The communist experiments of the twentieth century in Russia and Cuba grappled with the difficulties of monetary exchange but never overcame them (Nelson, 2001). Especially in his early works Marx castigated the utopian socialist for their confidence in the manipulation of money to eliminate exploitation. Even though he designed his theories as a critique of their, as he saw it, muddleheaded proposals for reform, the labour theory of value has given solace to reformers following their tradition. In fact money seems to be a veil for social war; money is a weapon (Cleaver, 1979).

Ethical politics

… I have access to certain natural resources. I have some knowledge of the potential and limitations of local human and non human resources. I have mouths to feed, generations to nurture, civilisations to reproduce culturally, socially and materially. I don’t need money to evaluate these human and non human resources. I don’t need money to distribute these human and non human resources. I do not need money to (re)produce these human and non human resources. I do need commonly agreed upon social principles and processes to assess the utility of these human and non human resources, to organise the reproduction of them and to distribute them. Our job, the job of ethical politicians today, is to design non monetary forms of appropriation and distribution of material and non material resources. I believe that this will constitute the basis of a truly postmodern society featuring ecologically sustainable behaviour (ESB) and social justice. A society without myths associated with modern society regarding money. The ethical politics of a post economic universe must feature substantive grassroots democracy and ESB. There will be no pretence at neutrality but rather a conscious and conscientious effort to create a balance within and between the fulfillment of the various needs and wants of all the contenders for existence. We want a world where people deal with people and non human nature directly and collectively and care.

References:

Bellofiore, Riccardo, “Marx after Schumpeter”, Capital and Class, # 24, Winter 1985: 60-74.
Bellofiore, Riccardo, (Ed.), Marxian Economics, a Reappraisal, Volumes I and II, London/New York, Macmillan Press/St Martin’s Press, 1998.
Cleaver, Harry, Reading Capital Politically, Brighton (Sussex), The Harvester Press, 1979.
Macfarlane, Alan, “The root of all evil”. In Parkin, David (ed.) The Anthropology of Evil, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1985: 57-76.
Nelson, Anitra, Marx’s Concept of Money: the God of Commodities, Routledge, London, 1999.
Nelson, Anitra, “The poverty of money: Marxian insights for ecological economists”, Ecological Economics, March 2001: 499-511.

Neurology and Law

Imagine this futuristic courtroom scene. The defence barrister stands up, and pointing to his client in the dock, makes this plea: “The case against Mr X must be dismissed. He cannot be held responsible for smashing Mr Y’s face into a pulp. He is not guilty, it was his brain that did it. Blame not Mr X, but his overactive amygdala.”

The legal profession in America is taking an increasing interest in neuroscience. There is a flourishing academic discipline of “neurolaw” and neurolawyers are penetrating the legal system. Vanderbilt University recently opened a $27 million neuroimaging centre and hopes to enrol students in a programme in the law and neuroscience. In the courts, as in the trial of serial rapist and murderer Bobby Joe Long, brain-scan evidence is being invoked in support of pleas of diminished responsibility. The idea is abroad that developments in neuroscience – in particular the observation of activity in the living brain, using techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging – have shown us that we are not as free, or as accountable for our actions, as we traditionally thought.

Defence lawyers are licking their lips at the possibility of (to use law professor Jeffrey Rosen’s succinct phrase) placing “the brain on the stand” to take the rap on behalf of the client. Though they failed to cut much ice in Long’s case, arguments that blame lies not with the defendant but with his overactive amygdala (supposedly responsible for aggressive emotions) or his underactive frontal lobes (supposedly responsible for inhibiting the expression of such emotions) are being deployed with increasing frequency. If our brains are in charge, and bad behaviour is due to them, our attitude to criminal responsibility, to punishment (the balance between rehabilitation and retribution) and to preventive detention of individuals thought to have criminal tendencies may all have to change.

Before we invest millions in “neurolaw” centres, however, we need to remind ourselves that observations of brain activity in the laboratory can explain very few things about us. We have no neural explanation for: sensations; the differences between sensations; the way our consciousness coheres at any particular time and over time; our relationship to an explicit past and an explicit future; our sense of being a self; and our awareness of other people as having minds like ourselves. All of these are involved in ordinary, waking behaviour. The confident assertion that “his brain made him do it”, except in well-attested cases – such as the automatisms associated with certain forms of epilepsy or the disinhibited behaviour that may follow severe brain injury – therefore goes beyond our current knowledge or understanding.

Those who blame the brain should be challenged as to why they stop at the brain when they seek the causes of bad behaviour. Since the brain is a physical object, it is wired into nature at large. “My brain made me do it” must mean (ultimately) that “The Big Bang” made me do it. Neuro-determinism quickly slides into determinism tout court.

And there is a contradiction built into the plea of neuromitigation. The claim “my brain made me do it” suggests that I am not my brain; even that my brain is some kind of alien force. One of the founding notions of neurolaw, however, is that the person is the brain. If I were my brain, then “My brain made me do it” would boil down to “I made me do it” and that would hardly get me off the hook. And yet, if I am not identical with my brain, why should a brain make me do anything? Why should this impersonal bit of matter single me out?

The brain is, of course, the final common pathway of all actions. You can’t do much without a brain. Decapitation is, in most instances, associated with a decline in IQ.

Nevertheless, there is a difference between events that owe their origin to the stand-alone brain – for example the twitching associated with an epileptic fit – and actions that do not. While we do not hold someone responsible for an epileptic fit, we do hold them responsible for driving against medical advice and causing a fatal crash. The global excuse “my brain made me do it” would reduce life to a condition of status epilepticus.

In practice, most brain-blamers are not prepared to deny everyone’s responsibility for anything and everything. While the brain is blamed for actions that attract moral disapprobation or legal sanction, people do not normally pass responsibility on to their brains for good actions or for neutral actions such as pouring a cup of tea or just getting up for a stretch after a long sit down. When asked why he is defending a particular client, a barrister is unlikely to say: “My brain made me do it, your honour.” This pick-and-mix neuro-determinism is grounds for treating a plea of “neuro-mitigation” with caution.

So we still retain the distinction between events such as epileptic fits that can be attributed to brain activity and those that we attribute to persons who are more than mere neural activity. Deciding on the boundaries of our responsibility for events in which we are implicated cannot be handed over to neuroscientists examining the activity of the isolated brain in the laboratory. As Stephen Morse, a professor of law, has reminded us, it is people, not brains, who commit crimes and “neuroscience . . . can never identify the mysterious point at which people should be excused responsibility for their actions”. That moral, legal question must be answered not in laboratories but in courtrooms and legislatures.

Meanwhile, the neuromitigation of blame has to be treated with suspicion except in those instances where there is unambiguous evidence of grossly abnormal brain function or abnormal mental function due to clearcut illness that may have its origin in brain disease. Our knowledge of the relationship between brain and consciousness, brain and self, and brain and agency is so weak and so conceptually confused that the appeal to neuroscience in the law courts, the police station or anywhere else is premature and usually inappropriate. And, I would suggest, it will remain both premature and inappropriate. Neurolaw is just another branch of neuromythology.

 

Why blame me? It was all my brain’s fault
The dubious rise of ‘neurolaw’ Raymond Tallis

The Times Oct 24, 2007

Neurosociety

  • The Naked Brain: How the Emerging Neurosociety Is Changing How We Live, Work, and Love, Richard Restak, Harmony Books. 272 pages.
  • The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine, Morgan Road Books. 279 pages.
  • A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, Cordelia Fine, Norton. 243 pages.

A recent article in Newsweek titled “This Is Your Brain on Alien Killer Pimps of Nazi Doom” reported on a study in which researchers scanned the brains of teenagers playing a violent video game and another group of teens playing a driving simulator. Kids who played the first-person shooter for 30 minutes “showed higher activity in the emotional centers of the brain, and less in the areas of concentration and inhibition” for an hour afterward. The study provided no direct link between badass games and badass behavior, but that didn’t stop the mother of one 14-year-old research subject from taking away his gaming console and encouraging him to play Monopoly instead. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a game that rewards you for ruthlessly driving your opponents into bankruptcy.At least, not until neuroscientists tell us otherwise. Lately, brain science has been anointed the oracle we consult for the answers to life’s nagging questions.A Nexis search of major newspapers and magazines shows a 33 percent increase in brain-related articles in the past 10 years, with pop neuroscience chiming in on issues that were once the realm of behaviorism, psychology, religion, and even marketing. Scientists are looking inside the brain for clues to why people prefer Coke to Pepsi and how the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex reacts to Super Bowl ads. Having isolated the part of the brain that “predicts” what shoppers will buy, a Stanford researcher intoned, “It’s likely that these mechanisms are there for reasons related perhaps to survival.” The brain now shows up in articles in O magazine on dieting and in items about “earworms”—those songs that stick in your head—as well as in serious-sounding books about how religion is rooted in our “God gene” and how having kids makes women’s brains smarter. The brain even does self-help.

A series of “neurobics” books promises to keep your mind healthy using “exercises based on the latest scientific research from leading neurobiology labs,” and a title coming out this fall promises to show “how the new science of neuroeconomics can help make you rich.”It’s comforting to think that our brains hold the key to everything from stock tips to teenage violence, but much of this feels like the 21st-century version of phrenology, with brain scans replacing skull palpation. Should research done on college kids looking for easy beer money influence what we think about motherhood, free will, or God? Considering how isolated and confounding the brain is, not to mention how young the field of neuroscience is, should we even look for answers there?

Brain science is an odd place to search for certainty, in part because it reveals just how mysterious the machinery of consciousness really is. In January, the New York Times blamed the brain for the futility of keeping New Year’s resolutions, quoting a scientist who said that people are just “meat machines” who only think they’re in control. A few days later, the Times wrote about the New Yorker who leapt in front of a subway train to rescue a man who’d fallen onto the tracks, speculating that special altruism-boosting “mirror neurons” made him save the day.

In The Naked Brain, neurologist and neuropsychiatrist Richard Restak offers up page after page of these kinds of tales of the brain’s unnerving secret agenda. Subjects in one study he cites were flashed words like “impolite” and “considerate,” then put into scenarios in which they acted out the words that had “primed” their behavior. In another study, white subjects were put inside a functional magnetic resonance imager (fmri) and subliminally shown a black face, causing the amygdala—the brain’s threat detector—to light up in a pixelated shout of “Racist!”

Restak presents these examples to support his predictions about what he calls the “neurosociety,” a near-future place where advances in neuroscience will jump “from the laboratory to the boardroom, the showroom and the bedroom,” enabling politicians, lawyers, and advertisers to exploit our brains’ vulnerabilities. Fortunately, Restak is too much of a skeptic to fully raise the alarm over what might sound like mind control. Unlike the Newsweek piece, which offered brain scans as hard proof, Restak makes plenty of disclaimers about what neuroscience can and can’t tell us. Even the “racist brain” softens when put into context. Those initially damning fmri images also show that the frontal lobes, which handle higher functions such as decision making, eventually overrule the amygdala. Before you draw a conclusion about that brain, give it a moment to think.

The abundance and malleability of brain research make it an extraordinarily tempting explanatory tool, especially if you have something to prove. Louann Brizendine’s The Female Brain sets out to dispel the belief, popular throughout most of the 20th century, that neurologically speaking, “women were essentially small men.” Unfortunately, rather than conducting a cautious inquiry into what makes the female brain uniquely female, she tries to show that women’s brains are superior to men’s. The result reads like a “Cathy” cartoon with neurons. Estrogen is “the queen,” while oxytocin, the neurohormone associated with attachment and parenting, is a “fluffy, purring kitty.” And there are groaners such as this one: “Maneuvering like an F-15, Sarah’s female brain is a high-performance emotion machine—geared to tracking, moment by moment, the non-verbal signals of the innermost feelings of others.” Ack!

In her enthusiasm, Brizendine gets sloppy. To support the claim that women are inherently better communicators, she cites a made-up statistic that women use 20,000 words a day while men use 7,000. But her biggest sin is peddling the misconception that if something is linked to the brain, it’s somehow more true. Take this sentence about how tough it is for women to choose between work and family: “We know that the female brain responds to this conflict with increased stress, increased anxiety, and reduced brainpower for the mother’s work and her children.” What happens to its meaning if you take away the word “brain”?

The science of the human brain may be one of the rare instances in which knowledge isn’t power. Brizendine wants to unlock its secrets to liberate women, but what good is it to know which neurotransmitter is the source of your troubles if you can’t—short of taking drugs—regulate it? Furthermore, brain scans can only tell us about a moment in time, while the brain is responsible for everything you do, all the time, without end. Which is why Restak is right to wonder which tells you more about someone: an fmri or the daily continuity of his words and actions?

Maybe we shouldn’t be looking to our brains for answers but for confusion, as Cordelia Fine does in A Mind of Its Own. Rather than wow us with brain enigmas, or use the brain to settle a score, she introduces us to the brain’s entertaining, all-too-human forms—”The Vain Brain,” “The Immoral Brain,” and “The Deluded Brain.” Fine, a psychologist, calls out the brain for what it is—a stubborn, unreliable piece of junk. The brain constantly feigns knowledge, she writes. “But things don’t stop there. The brain also lays claim to knowledge of what it cannot know. So omniscient does the pig-headed brain think itself that it even affects to be acquainted with knowledge that doesn’t exist.” Consider the study in which college students were asked to invent facts, such as the name of the only woman to sign the Declaration of Independence. Asked to recite their invented facts, the students eventually became convinced they were telling the truth. The brain is not to be trusted, and as a result, you are not to be trusted.

If we must rely on our untrustworthy brains to better understand our brains, can we ever hope to know what’s really going on up there? Maybe not. As one neuroscientist told me, “We may already know everything we’re going to know about the brain, and from this point forward we’re chasing our tails.” In the end, the brain may be God’s cruelest joke, enticing some of the smartest people in the world to twist away at a Rubik’s Cube that has no solution. If brain science is good for anything, it’s a humbling reminder that we don’t know shit about ourselves. I suspect the mom in the Newsweek article started out not liking her son’s video games. His brain scan gave her an excuse to pull the plug, but her brain had already made up its mind. That kid should get his Xbox back.
 

Dennis Cass is the author of Head Case: How I Almost Lost My Mind Trying to Understand My Brain

Post Humanism?

Here is an article that gives a vision for the future. As rationalists, I think that many of us will agree with many aspects of this vision.

  

On Becoming Posthuman

Copyright 1994, Max More

maxmore@primenet.com

Humanism and Transhumanism

Should we “play God?” We might expect Humanists, having accepted that there is no divine creator, shepherd, and purpose-giver, to respond affirmatively. However, I contend that many humanists, though pro-reason, science, and technology, and though opposed to many religion-inspired dogmas, still fear their own Promethean urge to challenge the gods.

This fear shows itself especially in the common (though not universal) humanist reaction to the possibility of the technological achievement of physical immortality or agelessness. Many humanists, even if they grant the possibility of such a monumental scientific accomplishment, shrink from this prospect. “It’s unnatural.” “Life without death would be meaningless.” “I don’t want to live longer than my allotted time.” Not only physical immortality, but also the acquisition of superhuman (or posthuman) intelligence and ability they view with fear and trembling. Many episodes of the humanist Star Trek series embody these attitudes: Transcending the merely human always brings disaster, starting with the 2nd episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”

Such tales smell as rotten to me as those of Icarus, Frankenstein, and the Tower of Babel: Humans should just accept their limits. Don’t build wings! Don’t build towers that penetrate the heavens! Don’t try to conquer aging and death! Cure the sick, but don’t strengthen the healthy!

Despite sharing so many values and goals with humanism, this failure of courage and vision explains why there are a growing number of people calling themselves transhumanists. As the term suggests, transhumanists anticipate our future as posthumans, and adjust their view of their lives accordingly. The most organized group of transhumanists call themselves Extropians. (Others are found in advocacy groups for life extension, space exploration, and so on.) We develop extropian perspectives on technology, science, philosophy, and art in our journal, Extropy: The Journal of Transhumanist Thought, in the Extropy Institute newsletter, email forums, and conferences. Extropians have a specific conception of transhumanism, involving certain values and goals, such as boundless expansion, self-transcendence, dynamic optimism, intelligent technology, and spontaneous order. Extropians are those who consciously seek to further “extropy” a measure of intelligence, information, energy, life, experience, diversity, opportunity, and growth.

Extropian transhumanism emphasizes aspects of humanism, rather than conflicting with it. For example, we share most of the values and goals listed in “The Affirmations of Humanism”, being stirred particularly by principles stating that “We are citizens of the universe and are excited by discoveries still to be made in the cosmos.” “….we are open to novel ideas and seek new departures in our thinking.” “We believe in optimism rather than pessimism…”

Though the theme of this issue is “Playing God”, I will propose here not that we seek to play God or become gods, but that we strive to become posthuman. Talk of “God” or “gods” raises the specter of traditional, outdated, primitive conceptions of superior beings. Let us leave no assumption unquestioned while conceiving of our possible future selves. No matter if we become immortal and incredibly powerful, we will not be supernatural ghosts unbound by physics, nor will we be jealous, vengeful enforcers of Judeo-Christian morals. So, leaving aside gods, I will ask: First, is a posthuman condition truly possible? Second, should we seek to become posthuman? Is it desirable?

Are Posthumans Possible?

The transition from human to posthuman can be defined physically or memetically. Physically, we will have become posthuman only when we have made such fundamental and sweeping modifications to our inherited genetics, physiology, neurophysiology and neurochemistry, that we can no longer be usefully classified with Homo Sapiens. Memetically, we might expect posthumans to have a different motivational structure from humans, or at least the ability to make modifications if they choose. For example: transforming or controlling sexual orientation, intensity, and timing, or complete control over emotional responses through manipulation of neurochemistry.

Clearly we have already taken our first steps along the road to posthumanity. We have begun to directly alter our genetic structure to remedy nature’s failures. We use Prozac, Piracetam, Hydergine, and Deprenyl to modify our psychology, enhance our concentration, and slow brain aging. Research into more specific and powerful neurochemical modifiers accelerates as we apply new tools from molecular biology, computer-assisted molecular design, and brain imaging.

The merging of human and machine is clear to those who survey the arena. Machines are becoming more organic, self-modifying, and intelligent. Driving these developments are fields such as artificial life, neural networks, fuzzy logic, intelligent agents, and machine intelligence. At the same time, we are beginning to incorporate our technology into our selves. We began with pacemakers, artificial joints, and contact lenses. Artificial retinas are under development, and signals have successfully been passed back and forth between a neuron in vitro and a field effect transistor. The researchers suggest the next step is to connect up an array of neurons and electronic components. Computers and their interfaces rapidly evolve to fit us: From mainframes and text-based interfaces to PCs and GUIs, PDAs, voice-recognition, and knowbots. How long before our computers are implanted in our brains, as seamlessly integrated into our cognition as an extra hemisphere? Maybe 10 years, maybe 50 or 60, but it’s coming.

The dawn of the new millennium will see the ability to use engineered viruses to alter the genetic structure of any cell, even adult, differentiated cells. This will give us pervasive control over our physiology and morphology. Molecular nanotechnology, an emerging and increasingly funded technology, should eventually give us practically complete control over the structure of matter, allowing us to build anything, perfectly, atom-by-atom. We will be able to program the construction of physical objects (including our bodies) just as we now do with software. The abolition of aging and most involuntary death will be one result. We have achieved two of the three alchemists’ dreams: We have transmuted the elements and learned to fly. Immortality is next.

Some machine intelligence researchers, roboticists, and cognitive scientists foresee even more radical posthuman possibilities. We may be able to “upload” our selves (our psychology, memories, emotional responses, values, feelings) from our biological brains into synthetic brains. Running on new hardware, perhaps connectionist nanocomputers, our mental processes could run up to a million times faster, and should admit of far easier and more extensive modification than allowed by our natural brains.

The Posthuman Goal

And life itself confided this secret to me: “Behold,” it said, “I am that which must always overcome itself. Indeed, you call it a will to procreate or a drive to an end, to something higher, farther, more manifold”
Thus Spake Zarathustra II 12

Why reach beyond ourselves and our humanity? Why seek to become posthuman? Why not accept our human limits and renounce transcendence? To ask these questions is almost to answer them. The hypothetical questioner sounds timid, cringing, or self-satisfied. The Enlightenment and the humanist perspective assure us that progress is possible, that life is a grand adventure, and that reason, science, and good will can free us from the confines of the past. Certainly, we can achieve much while remaining human. Yet we can attain higher peaks only by applying our intelligence, determination, and optimism to break out of the human chrysalis. Evolution, despite our efforts, has channeled our behavior in particular directions built into our neurology. Our bodies and brains restrain our capacities. Our creativity struggles within the boundaries of human intelligence, imagination, and concentration.

Aging and death victimizes all humans. To transhumanists, in the words of Alan Harrington, death is an imposition on the human race and no longer acceptable. The infuriating truth is that, just as we begin to accumulate a modicum of wisdom and skill, aging sneaks in to sap our energies. Nature has not allowed us to capitalize on our first few decades of experience. Death swoops down to deliver the final insult. Thus, to Extropians and other transhumanists, the technological conquest of aging and death stands out as the most urgent, vital, worthy quest of our time.

Some fear that life will lose its meaningfulness without the traditional stages of life produced by aging and the certainty of death. Extropians regard such an attitude as an understandable rationalization, a mechanism for making the best of what has hitherto been inevitable. Certainly, the achievement of posthuman lifespans will require extensive revision of our way of life, our institutions, and our conception of our selves. Yet the effort is worth it. Limitless life offers new vistas, unexplored possibilities, unbounded self-development. Not only will agelessness and deathlessness not rob life of its meaning, I believe the contrary is true. Meaningfulness and value require the continual making and breaking of forms, a process of self-overcoming, not a stagnant state. Besides, the drive for transcendence is too strong and central to life. We see it in our unquenchable thirst for heroes to admire and, in a distorted, externalized form, in the persistence and ubiquity of religion. Better to recognize and harness it rationally than to ignore or eradicate it.

The contemporary medical paradigm embodies a distinction common to our culture: The sharp distinction between curing disease and enhancing function to extraordinary levels. Doctors see their job as remedying disease and defect, not as augmentation of already-healthy function. I see this as related to a limited conception of “the natural”. When we cure a defect, we simply make things as nature (or God) intended. It’s unnatural, it’s said, to live without end, or to boost the body and brain beyond the norm. Thus, we find acceptable psychiatric drugs but reject intelligence-boosting drugs; we practice heart surgery but not deep-freezing the barely dead.

Yet we should regard transhuman transcendence as natural. Nature embodies within itself a tendency to seek new complex structures, to overcome itself to take on new, more effective forms. Nietzsche recognized this in his view of the universal will to power. More recently, we have partly uncovered this drive towards complexity through complexity theory, evolutionary theory, artificial life, and neurocomputing. Overcoming limits comes naturally to humans. The drive to transform ourselves and our environment is at our core.

No one will punish us for opening Pandora’s box, for equipping ourselves with wings of posthuman intelligence and agelessness. Our old myths, holding us back from radical innovation, were adaptive in our early history, when we lived on the edge of extinction. New techniques that changed ways of life could lead to the starvation of a community of primitive humans. Yes, we need to step carefully in modifying our brain function, our genes, and our physiology, but let us not hold back out of fear or false reverence for Nature as we find it.

Life and intelligence should never stagnate; it can re-order, transform and transcend its limits in an unlimited progression. Let our goal be the exuberant and dynamic continuation of this boundless process. The goal of religion is communion with, or merely serving, Goda superior being. A true humanist goalan extropian goalis our own expansion and progress without end. Humanity must not stagnate: to halt our burgeoning move forward, upward, outward, would be a betrayal of the dynamic inherent in life and consciousness. Let us progress on into a posthuman stage that we can barely glimpse.

God was a primitive notion invented by superstitious people, people only just beginning to step out of ignorance and unconsciousness. The concept of God has been oppressive: a being more powerful than we, but made in the image of our crude self-conceptions. Our own process of endless progression into higher forms should and will replace this religious idea. Humanity is a temporary stage along the evolutionary pathway. We are not the zenith of nature’s development. It is time for us to consciously take charge of ourselves and to accelerate our transhuman progress.

No more gods, no more faith, no more timid holding back. Let us blast out of our old forms, our ignorance, our weakness, and our mortality. The future belongs to posthumanity.