A Dialogue on Transhumanism — Chu and Hubbard Respond

Sat, 24 May 2014 08:00:00 PDT
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We recently put out a blog on Transhumanism that addressed some of the risks of the fast growing artificial intelligence movement. Our blog included many references to a book by Ted Chu called Human Purpose and Transhuman Potential. Chu responded to the blog, as did Barbara Marx Hubbard, a long time friend of ours who is now collaborating with Chu.

One of the major missing pieces in today’s reporting and commentary is in-depth, respectful interchange amongst those who disagree. We at Thrive experienced first-hand how few critics of our work have been willing to engage in public discussion with us about the key issues. To help model a new possibility, and to further the vital discussion of issues surrounding the “transhumanist” movement, we offer these unedited responses, followed by our comments.

Response to Thrive Blog about my book
Human Purpose and Transhuman Potential — part 1

By Ted Chu

First of all, I really appreciate the efforts of Foster and Kimberly to promote different and alternative ways of thinking and a more critical view of the world, especially global politics and economics and the current problems they so skillfully address in their movie Thrive. We need more of this. We are all interested in and devoted to making the world a better place to live and thrive.

Second, I hope readers understand that, while we certainly face huge issues such as climate change, tyranny, poverty, inequality, and so on, there may be even bigger issues now facing us. Through many years of research and practice, I believe the biggest issue we need to address is how we can begin a new phase of conscious evolution, to which I devote two chapters in my book. Barbara Marx Hubbard, a renowned evolutionary thinker who has been a close collaborator of the Gambles, endorsed my book, stating that it displayed a “deep reverence for the long philosophical, spiritual, and historical journey of humanity in our first phase of conscious evolution.” Far from being aligned with gross reductionists and materialistic atheists like Kurzweil, my position shows that the conscious evolutionaries of the future will be aligned with the deepest ethical, cosmic, and spiritual values of the world’s great wisdom traditions, especially Buddhism, the Abrahamic religions, and Taoism. In addition, one of the world’s leading Christian theologians, Professor John Haught, was moved to write the preface to my book.

So I think that the Gambles are mistaken in their depiction of my work as being devoid of moral and ethical thought and considerations, as are some of the transhumanist thinkers with whom they think I am aligned. Don’t take my word for it, please decide for yourself after reading my book, and I very much would like to hear from you. (For a brief look, the opening chapters are available for free.)

What I now think is the bigger issue—going beyond dealing with humanity’s current challenges that are cited in the Thrive movement—is that we prepare to transcend the limits of our humanity, by the creation of new kinds of beings. This could be a big surprise since not too many people are aware of this potential, which is now in hand. But things are developing under the public radar screen. Let me give you two examples. A couple of months ago the FDA started to review whether we should allow a “three-parent child,” a procedure that has already completed testing on monkeys. This intervention allows a mother-to-be to remove her cancer-causing genes from her egg and replace it with a healthy gene from another woman before it is inseminated. This is another step towards designer baby. In addition, yesterday a friend forwarded me an upcoming issue of Nature, which describes the creation of a reproducing organism with artificial base pairs of DNA (so the DNA has more than just the standard G,T,C and A code but also two further “genetic letters”). This breakthrough in synthetic biology is yet another step toward designer life.

Third, how do we start to think about developments like these? The existing literature and popular culture tend to have sharply different visions of the posthuman future, which I call “Hellven”, for the lack of a better word. The so-called bio-conservatives, religious fundamentalists, and libertarian activists depict hell-like scenarios of massive suffering or even total extinction of humans and all life on earth, while the so-called transhumanists and singularity enthusiasts believe the future will be a technological utopia with heaven-like complete satisfaction of human needs and desires. My position transcends these extremes while addressing all such moral concerns, and even additional objections and arguments, in hundreds of pages of my book Human Purpose and Transhuman Potential.

After more than 15 years of research that included reading a couple thousand books and countless papers, I have proposed a different idea about how we should think about the future. I suggest that we should open our mind to envision what will happen to the universe as a result of advanced technologies, rather than just on what will happen to humanity (Hellven). Let me make it clear that the “posthuman future” is not about abandoning humanity at all, although it may sound like it. To the contrary, it is about amplifying the human spirit and reaching out to our highest goals currently unavailable with our age-old biology. Of course the earth and humanity are part of the universe, and are of uttermost importance, but again, thinking about humanity exclusively is not sufficient. This is not the way our deepest philosophers, such as Lao Tsu, think. Let’s open our minds to far wider vistas that are suggested by the latest advances in cosmology, science, and evolutionary theory, while harvesting the best ancient wisdom of humanity as I attempt to do.

To get at this seemingly abstract idea, allow me to start by telling you what happened a couple of days ago, when I attended the final lecture by Ivan Szelenyi, the dean of Social Sciences at NYUAD, retiring after a 50-year distinguished career. He was arrested and expelled from the communist Hungary in early 70s for writing a heresy book, The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power. In 1992, he returned to the country and found it dramatically changed. He met an old friend at a new privately-run local bakery. The friend told him he was all for market economy. Asked why, he replied simply, “Cannot you see (the obvious)? This store is so much better than the state-run bakeries!” Ivan replied, perhaps only half-jokingly, “Well, if you had this kind of belief back in 1949, the course of history would be different.”

What really struck me during Ivan’s lecture is how even thoughtful and intelligent people can have fundamentally mistaken views of the world. The common narrative of that part of history is that people under communist rule were deeply dissatisfied but had no way to escape their lives of oppression under a dictatorship. In reality, many intellectuals, let alone lay people, firmly believed the socialist system is superior to the capitalist system. What was wrong was not just that they were brain-washed, but they either did not want to look at the facts, or have no access to the facts. Ivan’s own intellectual growth originated from his “accidental” investigation of Hungary’s housing ownership, showing that after 30 years of communist rule, the goal of giving working class the best political and material power had utterly failed. Just like Charles Darwin’s discovery journey, when he found data does not fit the ideology, he started to question it, which eventually opened his mind to a new belief. That belief was deemed heresy at the time, but it stood the test of time, and eventually became as obvious as the local bakery store.

This same approach is how I suggest responding to the blog by Foster and Kimberly. In their justifiable fear of a new totalitarian power taking over the U.S. and even the whole planet, they are missing certain facts and have misread my book, which is more aligned with their ethical and spiritual position than they imagine.

In their critique, Foster and Kimberly say, “We are big believers in the value of advanced technologies and look to them to augment healing, to expand our capabilities, to help relieve people of unnecessary drudgery, and to connect people across the planet and even throughout the cosmos. But that’s not what is happening here. Instead, we are talking about a complete forfeiting of human evolution, an ultimate form of eugenics and an entirely new level of social engineering financed and developed by people who believe that calculation can replace love and that consciousness is a mere material construct.” This, I believe, is based on their mistaken belief that “This fateful transition from human to robot is called Transhumanism, or the Singularity.” Nowhere in my book do I even remotely imply that the posthuman future is a transition from human to robot. I am not a transhumanist if that is the definition of the term. In addition, the core idea of the Singularity is the notion of exponentially accelerating technological change, not a transition from human to robot.

More importantly, I would like Foster and Kimberly to clarify this question: Where is the line between these advanced technologies that they value and those that they want to prohibit. For example, if eugenics can “expand our capabilities,” as they wrote, what counts as “an ultimate form of eugenics” that they wish to ban? I suspect there is what can be called a “naturalist ideology” hidden somewhere between these lines, one that believes we should leave “nature” untouched, especially human nature.

As I show in my book, such ideas verge on “nature worship”—the overvaluing of nature to the detriment of natural evolution itself. Nature worship in this sense is problematic. How do we decide at which point in the evolution of nature, at what moment in the arrow of time, should we choose to worship and stop all subsequent evolutionary outcomes? If our tree-dwelling ancestors decided to worship their particular state of nature, we won’t be here. Nature evolves over time, and the latest wonder emerging out of nature’s evolution is humanity itself, but how do we know nature has exhausted its evolutionary potential now, in this very moment in time? In fact, the power of human consciousness and the technological revolutions we have set in motion suggest that more is to come at a faster pace than before.

So in the book I propose a totally different kind of nature worshiping that solves this problem. Rather than believing that a certain outcome of cosmic evolution is the best and final result that we should preserve and protect, we should instead worship the entire process of evolutionary creation. That means we should help to push, rather than stop, future evolution in terms of creating new kinds of beings. Limiting ourselves to certain improvements of human condition reminds me of limiting private economic activities to a small household plot of land in socialist China when I was young — yes, such a limited approach helped the working class families a bit, but the biggest potential for improvement for their well-being was strictly off-limits.

Foster and Kimberly also say I support “an entirely new level of social engineering financed and developed by people who believe that calculation can replace love and that consciousness is a mere material construct.” My answer is, first, I don’t at all believe in “calculation can replace love.” Nor do I believe “consciousness is a mere material construct” (italic emphasis is mine) as I emphasized the importance of emergence. Second, we should not force our beliefs on people, even if technologies are being developed by people who have these beliefs; we should judge their products, not their motives. This is Adam Smith’s insight of the “invisible hand,” which I know the Gambles support.

In sum, I am all for human freedom, I believe in the freedom of human action even more than Foster and Kimberly, but I am also more than a humanist—like Barbara Marx Hubbard, I might be even called an evolutionary transhumanist in the special sense I define it in the book. I am all for the flourishing of humanity, but I also ask what is the purpose of human thriving. If there is a core belief that is unconditionally absolute for me, it is that we should strive to be “one with the universe.” That means we should be in line with the dynamic creation process that began with the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. The central issue I raised in my book is that humanity is lacking a higher goal today, and we should have such an overarching goal to resolve all the concerns about the “Hellven (Hell or Heaven) future” if we allow more freedom in technological progress.

As we enjoy the wonderful ecosystem and life’s diversity shown at the beginning of the “Thrive” movie, let us keep in mind the fact that this is the outcome of a dynamic creation process with a 99% casualty rate for the species that have emerged in the last four billion years. The same goes for Foster and Kimberly’s grave concern about losing our autonomy and the tyranny of the elite.

This piece is long enough and I appreciate your patience. I plan to address specific comments by Foster and Kimberley regarding their selected passages of my book in another entry. But first let me say these quotes should not be read independent of other parts of my book. A list of far more representative quotes from my book can be found here. They represent quite different meaning than the interpretation by Foster and Kimberly. Please don’t take my word for it, but my book in its entirety is now public information. Thank you all.

Here are our replies to a few of Ted Chu’s comments on our reflections

By Foster & Kimberly Gamble

Ted Chu
Far from being aligned with gross reductionists and materialistic atheists like Kurzweil, my position shows that the conscious evolutionaries of the future will be aligned with the deepest ethical, cosmic, and spiritual values of the world’s great wisdom traditions, …
Foster & Kimberly

We are thrilled to hear this distancing from those in the transhumanist movement who seem to be running from death while denying the existence of the metaphysical. We got quite the different impression from Chu’s book and our conversations with him. We encourage you to read his book, and our blog, to see for yourself what you think.

Ted Chu
Let me make it clear that the “posthuman future” is not about abandoning humanity at all, although it may sound like it. To the contrary, it is about amplifying the human spirit and reaching out to our highest goals currently unavailable with our age-old biology.
Foster & Kimberly

Again, we are delighted to hear a sense of sticking with humanity — with voluntary enhancements — rather than just turning it over to artificial intelligence. When Chu has spoken and written about how sex, eating, procreation and death will no longer be limiting factors, that seemed to indicate that machines, not organic sentient beings would be the predominant entities. He specifically suggests that we will be freed of our genetic limitations. We don’t understand how those functions can disappear in human life unless we subjugate our “age-old biology” to machines. Perhaps he was referring to uploading our consciousness into the computers, as referenced by Kurzweil and the Transcendence movie reviewed in our blog.

Ted Chu
In their justifiable fear of a new totalitarian power taking over the U.S. and even the whole planet, they are missing certain facts and have misread my book, which is more aligned with their ethical and spiritual position than they imagine.
Foster & Kimberly

We are very glad to hear the reflection that we are so aligned on ethical and spiritual matters. He says our fear of a totalitarian takeover is justified, but we do not feel he has adequately addressed the predictable use of chipped beings, cyborgs or robots to further that agenda. We do not share his confidence in the people behind these technologies, let alone their application. Chu has stated to us that he is pro-nuclear and pro-GMO. He wrote that humanity had achieved a true free market and transcended tyranny, so at some point these contradictions need to be publicly addressed in this important emerging movement.

Government/Corporatocracy already controls our land, energy, media, education, money, military, food, healthcare etc. This is fully documented in THRIVE. Abuses of power are rampant and growing (Patriot Act, Military Commissions Act, Posse Commetatus, NDAA, NSA,CIA, DHS, Citizens United, McCutcheon, Federal Reserve, IMF, World Bank, Trans-Pacific Partnership, WTO, regional “Unions” — European, African, North American — etc.)

Realistically, what are the chances that implantation or augmentation of humans by transhumanist technology won’t become mandatory or covertly imposed just like toxic vaccines, GMOs, chemtrails, re-education, RFID chipping, suppression of new energy and medical devices?

Ted Chu
More importantly, I would like Foster and Kimberly to clarify this question: Where is the line between these advanced technologies that they value and those that they want to prohibit. For example, if eugenics can “expand our capabilities,” as they wrote, what counts as “an ultimate form of eugenics” that they wish to ban? I suspect there is what can be called a “naturalist ideology” hidden somewhere between these lines, one that believes we should leave “nature” untouched, especially human nature.
Foster & Kimberly

We have a deep reverence for “nature” and also recognize that every electron and atom, every solar system and galaxy and each of us and our machines are a part of the natural universe. Your suspicion of a “naturalist ideology” is misguided. Our issue is not with “natural” but with non-violation. We are confident that while humanity is in such a young and volatile stage of our own maturity, and with the unethical and lethal institutions that dominate our planet, our freedom and well-being are under huge threat. Is the answer the banning of all advanced technology? No, that would be a limitation on freedom and evolution. But the technology needs to be judged and allowed based on whether it represents a violation of the safety and well-being of individuals, or the rights of natural ecosystems to be protected as in the case of radioactive materials like plutonium which threaten all life as we know it on Earth. Once again the key focus is on how we make sure that any interaction with both the benefits and risks of advanced technology remain absolutely and unequivocally VOLUNTARY.

Ted Chu
The central issue I raised in my book is that humanity is lacking a higher goal today, and we should have such an overarching goal to resolve all the concerns about the “Hellven (Hell or Heaven) future” if we allow more freedom in technological progress.
Foster & Kimberly

We are whole-heartedly for freedom in technological progress — as long as it doesn’t violate freedom in human lives. And when that question is in doubt, we believe that precaution is required, and that the burden of proof should be on the creator of a technology to show that the “breakthrough” is safe.

In our understanding, “goals” come and go. “Purpose” endures as a beacon guiding our path. As you describe it here, you and we both see our purpose to be fulfilling our human potential by always becoming more aware of our true nature and by resolving the challenges which threaten our conscious evolution in ways that are harmonious and holding to the moral principle of non-violation.

We are grateful for your response and we hope that this on-going dialog can be a source of important learning for us and for anyone choosing to benefit from and engage in the exploration.

Universal Evolutionary Transhumanism

Barbara’s Blog
By Barbara Marx Hubbard

As a long-time student of conscious evolution, and now as a colleague and co-worker with Dr. Ted Chu, author of Human Purpose and Transhuman Potential, I am deeply gratified to see these great issues of human evolution brought into the public discourse by the advent of new technologies that can transform human biology and life itself. And I thank Foster and Kimberly Gamble for helping to raise these key questions facing humanity.

I pose this question: What truly is “natural” in the light of these new capacities that have emerged from our own “natural” abilities to understand the atom, the gene, the brain, the processes of evolutionary transformation and to invent the new technologies to transform life?

This question arose for me when the United States dropped the first atomic bombs on Japan in 1945. After the horror of this destructive power, the question that has guided my life emerged: What is the meaning of these new powers that is good? What are images of our future equal to our new scientific/technological powers that attract us to move toward? Where does civilization choose to go as we gain powers we used to attribute to our gods?

I believe that we are finding the answers in the deeper meaning of what Ted and I call evolutionary transhumanism.

Again, in this short blog, I’d like to respond by posing the question: What is natural? What is “nature?” when viewed from standpoint of 13.8 billion years of evolution? If we start before the Big Bang, we are in the realm of mystery, of God, of Source, all of which go beyond the word “nature.”

When we study the first three seconds after the Big Bang and observe the extraordinary precision of the original flaring forth of the universe, as Brian Swimme calls it, we are seeing a version of “nature’ that is hardly imaginable in its design features.

Then when we quickly skim the billions of years of evolution, with its five mass extinctions, leading now to our own participation in the sixth mass extinction, what do we see here that we can call “nature” or natural?

What seems to me to be “natural” is the direction and purpose of evolution itself. The tendency toward greater consciousness, complexity, love, freedom and order is what I would call “natural.”

The nature of nature, and the purpose of nature, is to transform itself, all that is alive, to higher orders of consciousness, love, freedom and creativity. In evaluating transhumanism from this perspective, we see that this purpose has now entered human hands as we deliberately create new technologies of the transformation of life itself.

We have become a species capable of understanding nature well enough to enter into the process of nature’s direction and purpose consciously. This is what Ted Chu calls “Conscious Evolution 2.0.” Conscious Evolution 1.0 is where we are now when we realize we are affecting our own evolution by everything we do, from developing new technologies to formulating new social norms and institutions. This is cultural evolution — changing everything we can except for human nature. Conscious Evolution 2.0 is when we become the first species on this Earth to be able to cocreate new species of life and transform ourselves, just as nature has been doing for billions of years. The highest purpose of transhumanism, is therefore, the purpose of evolution itself that has now become conscious in us. Indeed, it appears that the design of evolution is to produce cocreators with the process of creation itself.

To put it in the vernacular, God is “cocreating godlings.” The purpose of these new capacities are then to further fulfill the direction of evolution itself. That would seem to be three-fold. To restore the earth for as long as possible; to free ourselves from disease, tyranny and war; and to cocreate a cosmic species, ourselves. I would also add: To enter the universal community of billions of other planets. To discover and contribute to universal evolution.

We are still an adolescent species. These powers are new to us. What is needed is to gather wise, loving, and brilliant minds to contemplate these questions and to offer guidance and counsel to respond to the greatest evolutionary dangers and opportunity our species has ever faced.

Responses to Barbara’s blog on Transhumanism

By Foster & Kimberly Gamble

Many thanks to Barbara Marx Hubbard for taking time to share these thoughts about conscious evolution and transhumanism. The key distinction that we want to register as context for this entire conversation centers around the word “VOLUNTARY.” We know that technology will continue to develop capacities beyond our wildest dreams — and we support that — as long as individuals, species and eco-systems are not violated against their will, either overtly, covertly or inadvertently. With that in mind, let’s look at a few of Barbara’s comments.

Barbara
I pose this question: What truly is “natural” in the light of these new capacities that have emerged from our own “natural” abilities to understand the atom, the gene, the brain, the processes of evolutionary transformation and to invent the new technologies to transform life?
Foster & Kimberly

Our issue in warning about the dangers of Transhumanism, is not about “naturalness.” Universe in its entirety is “nature” — every atom, molecule and cell — and it all seems to be all alive. The vital ethical and evolutionary questions arise around such issues as, “Will the smashing together of atoms kill or injure people and species?” (Nuclear weapons, radiation and waste) “Will the destructive and deadly invasion of genes with artificial, inter-species modification (GMO) create toxins that will be in our foods clandestinely, in our fields carried on the wind or by mandatory or monetary decree?” “Will our bodies and brains be invaded with electronic chips against our will or without our knowing?”

Barbara
Where does civilization choose to go as we gain powers we used to attribute to our gods? I believe that we are finding the answers in the deeper meaning of what Ted and I call evolutionary transhumanism.
Foster & Kimberly

We would hope that the term “ethical” could be added to keep the critical conversation alive and at the forefront as to whether we are each participating by informed choice in anything “transhuman.” So we recommend, “ETHICAL EVOLUTIONARY TRANSHUMANISM.”

Barbara
The nature of nature, and the purpose of nature, is to transform itself, all that is alive, to higher orders of consciousness, love, freedom and creativity.
Foster & Kimberly

We need open and global conversations about whether or not robots are capable of consciousness, love, freedom or real creativity. They are fabulous calculators and machines…but we don’t want them deciding our fate. Many transhumanists speak of the time coming soon when the computers will be so much “smarter” than us that they will take over as the “creators.” Ted Chu himself refers to this, as we explicitly site in our blog. In this view, our pre-occupation with relationships, spirit, love, art, music, food, pleasure and such would probably be seen as bothersome limitations — to be marginalized or eliminated. That’s why we see “ethical” as word one and “pre-cautionary” as word two.

Barbara
The purpose of these new capacities are then to further fulfill the direction of evolution itself. That would seem to be three-fold. To restore the earth for as long as possible; to free ourselves from disease, tyranny and war; and to cocreate a cosmic species, ourselves.
Foster & Kimberly

Barbara, we have known and appreciated you for years and are clear on your vision, but are you confident that “ourselves” would still be around and free in the transhumanist’s plan? We do not share your confidence. The language often sounds beautiful, but when you unpack what it actually means, the strategies for implementation and the racist, classist, ignorant people whose worldview currently reigns cannot be ignored.

Barbara
We are still an adolescent species. These powers are new to us. What is needed is to gather wise, loving, and brilliant minds to contemplate these questions and to offer guidance and counsel to respond to the greatest evolutionary dangers and opportunity our species has ever faced.
Foster & Kimberly

When these wise, loving and brilliant minds gather to contemplate the paths to a thriving future for humans, will they do so believing they should impose the results of their contemplations on others? They are already using unethical, involuntary means of gathering human data, our personal data, to design these new sentient beings. Are we to expect that they will suddenly respect our privacy, value compassion, empathy and intuition alongside their prized intellectual prowess, and include the rights of nature to be left whole? What about implementation strategies, and the specific worldview of those behind these new designer genes?

If you agree, then we are on the same page. Now we just need to on-goingly expose, educate, and persuade (or if necessary, prosecute) those who would try to use transhumanist technology to dominate and rule others.

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