Review of “Transhumanist Wager”

Review of “Transhumanist Wager”

I read the book in total.
It is worth reading.
To me it is kind of interesting, and some of it has some power, but the philosophical side fails by its own criteria.

In 1974 after completing 3rd year biochemistry at university, it became clear to me that indefinite life extension was a logical possibility. For the last 39 years I have been looking for classes of social and technical and philosophical structures that support the sort of security required to sustain indefinite life. The sorts of things that are in the long term self interest of every long lived individual.

It seems clear to me, that fostering a reverence for life, at every philosophical level, is a necessary requirement for creating the sort of security required to live a very long time. It is not stable to tell anyone that their life is worth nothing, or is in any way conditional on the judgement of another. The only logical way to get a reasonable probability of living a very long time is to do whatever one possibly can to preserve all sentient life. Death is the one mistake no one recovers from, and we all make mistakes (more often than most of us like to admit).

Age related degeneration is only one of many threats to long term survival; pandemic, war, someone with a grudge, large scale volcanism, comet and meteor strike, any of the many forms of pollution, and numerous other threats are real, and require mitigating strategies (all of which are possible, and many of which require large scale technology).

I agree with many aspects of the philosophy in the book, like the need to prepare for war if you want peace, and the fact that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

The book does nothing to fundamentally examine or challenge the assumptions behind money and market value.
Technology is rapidly approaching the point where we will be able to automate everything about production, including the production and maintenance of the means of production. Yet there is no monetary value in producing such abundance. There is no money in producing such a thing, in fact there are massive monetary incentives against producing such a thing.
Markets cannot do anything with real abundance of very valuable things other than value it at zero (consider oxygen in the air if you doubt that).
Markets have served us well in getting to this stage in our evolution, and they are about to reach the end of their social utility.
Market value (aka money) is becoming the greatest threat to our welfare and survival, and to transhumanism (as the book implicitly, but not explicitly, demonstrates).

Another severe criticism is that many of the ideas in the book are based upon a very simplistic understanding of evolution. They focus only on the role of competition in evolution, and say nothing of the role of cooperation.
All major advances in the complexity of living systems have been characterised by new levels of cooperation.
Games theory tells us that raw cooperation is vulnerable to cheating, so it requires attendant strategies to stabilise it. The simplest of these fall into classes like “tit for tat” and “retaliator”; and can be seen in all social and legal systems and in the raw human emotions that require punishment of those who transgress the cooperative rules of society.

We are relatively weak naked apes. Without the language culture and skills that have been created by the combined efforts of billions of people, of those who came before us, philosophers scientists, artisans, engineers, people of every shape and form; we would not survive a month.

Evolution and the universe demand consequence, and those consequences can be very long term.
We can afford to show kindness, it is a form of cooperation that pays huge dividends in the long term. And there must be consequences for cheating, and those consequences do not need to be death. The killing of another is the worst of crimes, that demands the severest of consequences, and in this age we can design solitary confinement that gives anyone all the tools they need to survive and better themselves, and has 24/7 robotic surveillance to ensure escape or communication with anyone outside the prison system is as close to impossible as our best minds can make it. Each prisoner responsible for growing and cooking their own food, with as little supplementation as is possible, each house in a sound proof compound with a doomed roof that lets in enough light for photosynthesis, but without enough coherence to resolve anything visually (with minimal supplements only in emergencies). That is a minimal use of resources and space.

Trans-humanism must demonstrate by its words and its actions that it values life, all potentially sentient life, above all else.
We must acknowledge that all sentient life goes through a number of stages.
We do not kill our children because they do not yet understand quantum mechanics.
Anyone can reach a level of awareness where they respect all sentient life, and most have not yet done so. Why should we kill anyone simply because they are not yet mature to that level?

In this sense, I reject Jethro’s view of transhumanism as childishly immature and dangerous.
And I acknowledge that all tools are morally neutral. It is what we do with them that matters.
A hammer can drive nails to build houses, or it can crush skulls. It is not the hammer that is at fault.

Yes certainly, we are all individuals.
Yes certainly, we can all choose to become more than we are.
And without any shadow of doubt, we are also cooperative entities, part of a cooperative culture, with many layers and levels of cooperative systems within us.
So the idea that we should all look to our own interests to the exclusion of others is a nonsense.
We must all look to our own interests, certainly; and we must also look to the interests of others in cooperation with others; and be prepared to punish cheats where we find them (at every level).

We are not faced with either or decisions in respect of genius vs those with lesser skill sets.
We have ample resources for all.
It is the myth of money that is now the greatest restraint on human potential.
We have the productive capacity and skills to provided for everyone, the gifted and the not so gifted.
We have energy and resources, and we do not use them for the benefit of us all because we are trapped in the “box” of “market value”.

Societal change and improvement always makes large advances because of the outliers. We must nurture and protect those outliers, because every genius has been thought a fool before being acknowledged as a genius.

I strongly advise everyone with an interest in transhumanism to read Richard Dawkins 1976 classic book “The Selfish Gene”. I first read it in 1978. It is the only book I have ever read twice on the day I first encountered it. It is, beyond any shadow of doubt, the most transformative book I have ever read.

It takes tens of thousands of hours of study to go beyond good and evil, beyond right and wrong; to live in a world of possibility, probability, and consequence of action.

Anyone who incites someone to murder someone else, be they christian or capitalist, Muslim or Marxist, politician or bureaucrat, transhumanist or soldier, commits a crime against humanity. It is never a total defence to say we were following orders, and it is always a greater crime to be the one giving the orders.

Transhumanism can only (in logic, in the mathematics of games theory) succeed if it gives every individual the freedom of choice to make their own mistakes, and grow in their own path, and there needs to be very strong consequences for anyone who causes the death of another, be it through pulling a trigger, or driving without due care and attention, or through the pursuit of profit or ideology over human welfare.

I am a transhumanist, and I want no part of the morality promoted by Jethro in the Transhumanist Wager, and I definitely want the technology developed in Transhumania, and much more beyond.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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1 Response to Review of “Transhumanist Wager”

  1. Hi Ted,
    Thanks for reading and reviewing my novel. I appreciate it and wish you optimal health in the future. Cheers, Zoltan Istvan


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