Discussion Board

Topic: Tranhumanism

From: kurt
Location:
Date: 11/15/2006

Greg, I read a recent interview of you. It seems you don't care much for life extension. Other than restricting reproduction (to prevent overpopulation) what other restrictions did you have in mind for us to live indefinitely long youthful life spans?

We really are committed to achieving this goal. Serious money is starting to flow into this endevour. I also read somewhere that the South Korean government has started to finance research aimed at understanding aging. Some of us do not have alot of time to waste in achieving this (I just turned 30).

You should understand, those of us who are into radical life extension are into it because we intensely dislike the conventional life cycle. We consider a prison that we want to break out of. We aspire to the "lazarus long" life style (defined as where you cruise around doing all kinds of different stuff, having many different careers and what not). I think such will become the norm in a post-mortal society.

If we have to give up having kids to have this, so be it. I have no problem with it. It is a small price to pay.

It would seem in the long run (more than 50-100 years out) that we will get into space, one way or another. This should certainly give us all the room (lebensraum) to be able to do whatever we want (including living forever) without stepping on each other toes and to go our separate, desparate ways. Perhaps you would prefer to see the space thing take off before we get the cure for aging. I can understand this point of view.

BTW, have you heard of Aubry de Grey and SENS? The SENS website is at www.sens.org. There is a section that answers all of the "social" objections to life extension.

Re: Tranhumanism

From: Greg Bear
Date: 11/15/2006

Thanks for writing, kurt! I have one major objection to indefinite life extension. Not everyone can experience indefinite life extension--even if they forego having children, which most won't anyway. (Vows get broken. The instinct is to have a family and kids.) Therefore, only a select few--almost certainly the wealthier individuals--will benefit from the procedure. That's not terrible in and of itself--but as the wealth and power of these "immortals" continues to grow, they will become tremendous burdens on their communities over the centuries. With money, their political power will also grow. Without children, these individuals will feel no need to do other than amass wealth and increase their power, no matter what the cost to society. With children--wealthy, powerful individuals throughout history have tended to have LOTS of children. Thus, each "immortal" will behave much as tumor cells do in a body--suck up more than his or her share of resources, lose any sense of responsibility, and cause tremendous damage to the health and welfare of the community as a whole. If they have children, those children will no doubt wish to be immortal. This is called metastasis. The parallel is exact, the metaphor is strong.

The almost inevitable social reaction against such individuals--the immune response, so to speak--will probably render their treatments moot.

I've given additional objections in my novel, VITALS, and also recommend Joe Haldeman's THE LONG HABIT OF LIVING (AKA BUYING TIME) for some possible work-arounds that don't quite work as planned. For the emotional cost of long life without parity, there's Poul Anderson's BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS and of course Robert Heinlein's METHUSELAH'S CHILDREN and subsequent Lazarus Long stories.

Re: Tranhumanism

From: Nick Riggs
Location:
Date: 11/15/2006

Greg, what you say may be true, providing only a limited number of individuals become immortal.

However, if immortals don't suffer from age-related infirmities (otherwise why bother?), and the cost of the immortality treatment is not exorbitant, then countries with national health care (such as the UK) may make immortality mandatory at a certain age, say 45, in order to reduce the state's crippling and spiralling health costs.

Re: Tranhumanism

From: kurt
Location:
Date: 11/15/2006

It is true that rich people, once they make it, often become parasites and try to "kick down the ladder" so others cannot make it as well (we call such people "limousine liberals"). I understand your point about this. Adam Smith talked about this issue (the first thing two capitalist do when they get together is to conspire to keep out the third).

I think your argument is more a criticism of socialistic economic policy than of immortalism, per se. Free market capitalism is inherently open and dynamic, a positive sum game. As long as post-mortals engage in productive enterprise (that is, continue to engage in wealth creating activities like developing new technology and products, starting new businesses, etc.), would they not add value to the surounding communities, rather than "consume" or take value away (I believe this is called "trickle down")?

Also, is it not possible that post-mortals may choose to form their own communities (city-states and the like) politically independent of others? It seems that this option will become available once we get out into space. It seems that this option could be available on Earth (the 1000 state sovereignty model).

I read "Time Enough for Love". I have not read any of the other Heinlein stuff. I read "Pandora's Star" by Peter Hamilton, which also portrays an immortalist society.

I'm sure when the treatments first come out, they will be quite expensive. However, as with all technology, the costs should come down over time. Also, much of the treatments are gene therapy type stuff, which should eventually become as cheap as vaccines. it seems to me that the economic class/access problem would resolve itself over time.

Also, "immortality" treatments have market economies of scale (everyone has the aging problem) that most other medical therapies do not. That should further accelerate the cost/performance progression.

Re: Tranhumanism

From: kurt
Location:
Date: 11/15/2006

Your response prompted a memory of a discussion I had with a friend around 1990 or so. Changing the tax base from income tax or VAT to a fixed asset based tax would resolve your objection to immortality.

Under the current system, taxes are levied on wealth creation activities in the form of either an income, capital gains, or VAT tax. Fixed assets are not taxed. Such a tax base favors the already wealthy and further entrenches their wealth into the system. It also encourages the already wealthy to invest their money into fixed assets such as real estate (that are often finite in supply), which further concentrates wealth and ties it up in a form which does not really benefit everyone else. If that money were to be invested into productive enterprise instead, then that wealth generates all of the new technologies, products, and opportunites that, by definition, benefits the rest of us.

If the tax system was changed to a fixed asset based tax (first residence excluded - the details have to be worked out) and eliminating income and other tax, the already wealthy would have far more encentive to invest in productive enterprise, rather than to engage in speculation games of fixed, finite supply assets such as real estate. A more specific benefit of this would be to encourage investment in space enterprise and to help us get out into space.

Over the time scales of greater than, say, 100-200 years, we should be in space in a big way and the concept of the finite community will be obsoleted.

Re: Tranhumanism

From: Greg Bear
Date: 11/15/2006

We can propose ideal situations all we want--we simply don't know how expensive such treatments will be, or how long they must be maintained. A one-shot treatment followed by perfect health forever is more than unlikely--it would probably go up against certain immutable laws of physics. Nanotech--a dream, to be sure, but how often must it be renewed, and how dangerous could it be if it went wrong? No--the economics argument doesn't impress me. And if everyone gets the treatment--or everyone who wants it--there had better be some very inexpensive and efficient escape valves to get populations off the planet earth!

Re: Tranhumanism

From: Greg Bear
Date: 11/15/2006

Again, to many suppositions, too many idealizations, too many theories. Biology--and politics, and economics--are much messier in practice.

Re: Tranhumanism

From: Greg Bear
Date: 11/15/2006

All worthy points--but they don't get around the immortal truths that the rich get richer, and the old tend to be richer than the young, the the ladies tend to prefer rich to poor, and prosperity and health tend to multiply indefinitely. As well, we must consider how dense populations can get within our solar system over, say, a thousand to ten thousand years--and given FTL star travel, over a hundred thousand years. I believe Isaac Asimov once calculated (for a 1960s TV GUIDE article) that given present rates of procreation, unchanged and unrestrained, within a hundred thousand years or so, every bit of mass in the galaxy would be made of human flesh--immortal, but how happy? (Actually, I believe he was assuming present-day rates of mortality--and probably only a hundred billion or so stars.)

And you WILL live to see it! Given certain ideal conditions, of course.

Re: Tranhumanism

From: patrick
Location:
Date: 11/17/2006

Ya all are fixated on one crucial element, here: economic system. Dispel this concept, dispel the agency of currency, dispel the concept of career....the need to work....and you have a leisure society:

Leisure (funxional):

A lifestyle or existence that is based in the exploration of consciousness through physical and mental pleasure and progress. (No, this is not Hedonistic - read on...) This is informed by a principle of basic research (funxionality), whereby one openly presents themself to the cosmos rather than actively approaching or seeking. Accordingly, the constant optimisation inherent in the process relinquishes the need for and of labor. As the paradigm is holarchical and singular (non-dualistic), there is no moral frame of reference.

Re: Tranhumanism

From: Greg Bear
Date: 11/17/2006

Sounds wonderful to me--now, cite me some examples in nature and/or history, where the seeker/learner survives! Of course, with proper extreme conditioning...

Re: Tranhumanism

From: Patrick
Location:
Date: 11/19/2006

Greg, least of all from you would I have thought to hear alluded, 'where has it been, so how can it be?'.

And, in response to the latter part:

"Focus on problems - the Universe hands you more. Focus on creative ideas (not solutions) and the Universe sends people, information, events and circumstances your way to help you 'make it happen'."

- Matt Furey

Re: Tranhumanism

From: Tim Beaulieu
Location: Presque Isle, Maine
Date: 11/19/2006

Your repsonses to life-extension seem very reasonable, given humankind's current cognitive abilities. Now we know that the human brain functions at approximately ten to the sixteenth power operations per second and the total amount of information in a human brain equals about one hundred terabytes, and we STILL only use about ten percent of our total capacity. What would you say to these problems if we were able to surpass that? The dorsal and median raphe nuclei of the brain are currently thought to be the primary limiters on brain activity (as posited by Howard V. Hendrix in his novel 'Lightpaths' and its sequel 'Standing Wave'). Say that we could damp them down and reach almost one hundred percent activity (and prevent brain burnout while we were doing it). What would your answer be to the economic fallbacks if we had people who were capable of thinking of solutions almost before they finshed hearing the problem? Personally, I think such people would almost never be safe, because they would be viewed as EXTREMELY valuable military assets. What do you think?

Re: Tranhumanism

From: Greg Bear
Date: 11/20/2006

This "ten percent capacity" idea goes back a long ways--and it's wrong. The human brain uses nearly all its capacity, it just doesn't use it for upper-brain thinking. Running the body and regulating subconscious, so-called "sub-rational" activity is what keeps us alive long enough to get some upper-brain thinking done. Consider, for example, the extraordinary ability the body has to walk or run around in changing conditions (or to play Ping-Pong). Assign those tasks to the cerebral cortex, and you'd fall over. Haven't yet read Howard's book--perhaps he'd like to comment?

Re: Tranhumanism

From: patrick
Location:
Date: 11/20/2006

Ya, I've long thought the same as you, Greg. The 'ten percent' gig I think is a popcul myth (at least in its perpetuation). It shares company with the 'big brain' theory. From what I've read, it comes down to density of neural proliferation and connection. Although, if there is some kind of photonic, gravitonic, or exotic quantum signature to consciousness, then a couple things are possible: that transcendence is a release of the physical anchoring to brain; that one can extend cognition hyperspatially. (Or realise this inherent capacity.)

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