2013 / 6 January

Present Ideals Inspiring Future Ideals – and Vice-Versa

1 – Does “Making the Most” of Our Biological Lives Provide Insight to How We Might or Could “Make the Most” of Our Post-Human Lives?

My greatest fascination in the past 7 years of my life has been in the understanding and execution of living one’s best life. This has involved cycles of introspection, the study of psychology, philosophy, pushing my own boundaries, and building a life around me that models, challenges and furthers my ideals.

The prospect of Transhumanism takes this concept of living one’s best life or “maximizing one’s potentials” to an entirely different realm of possibilities. Despite the apparent differences, it is my belief that the exercise of determining and living out our best life is a process that can mold or at least provide a well of insight into the ideal transition to transhumanism. If we are to evolve ourselves through cognitive enhancement or eventual mind uploading, then the pressing questions seem to be:

  • What kind of future experience should we be striving towards?
  • What are the ideals and principles that we should adhere to as we build the next evolution of human experience?

Presumably, if we can understand what our own best life is or is not (some of such insights may be more or less universal, others more particular per person), then we can better “enhance” and “edit” our capacities to make these changes beneficial to our fulfillment, or our flourishing (to take a common term from the field of Positive Psychology).

Experiments in this domain would undeniably have to be carried out carefully (the entire transition to transhumanism must be deliberate in this way… and the dystopian possibilities seem more clear than the utopian possibilities at this point) – but as a “thought experiment” it seems fruitful to explore these potential enhancements.

We might, for example, determine the chemical sources of our unhappiness and determine how to “edit” those from our psychological processes. We might determine different constituents to our fulfillment and aim to construct enhancements to these faculties first. We might adjust our minds to eliminate sources of anger and hatred and promote a greater sense of collaboration and harmony.

Of course, any of the above “adjustments” could become the beginning of a great abomination – and a great detriment to living beings – just as it has the possibility of doing the opposite. This same kind of risk of “playing God” (and dealing with unforeseeable consequences of technology tinkering with nature) seems to be the main motive behind the laws against human cloning.

Regardless, our scientific understanding of fulfillment and a “best life” (in addition to our reflections and philosophy thereof) will – in many ways – be our only “orientation” and building blocks of the future of sentient potential (that is, “conscious potential” that isn’t necessarily “human.”)

2 – Can Our Ideas About “Making the Most” of a Technologically “Enhanced” Life Provide Insight to How We Live Our Biological Lives?

The transition to non-biological intelligence opens the door to possibilities of drastic changes in our human nature and circumstances that could move our lives closer to an ideal.

a) Eliminating What We Don’t Want

In The Singularity is Near Ray Kurzweil paints a picture of a world where we can eat food without needing to pay attention to it’s nutritional contents. Biological alterations we might be able to live well from swallowing a series of daily pills, or with the necessity of nearly no common “fuel” at all – and eating could become an exercise in rich sensual experience and enjoyment, not a part of our survival requirement. For a “foodie,” this would seem to be a wonderful transition – but for those of us who don’t derive a rich pleasure from food, we might be grateful to pour more of our time elsewhere.

We might imagine a world where we needn’t bother ourselves with tasks such as driving a car (it would drive itself, or teleport us), finding our wallet (we would automatically be able to sense where it was, or we could holographically produce it at any time), cooking food (what higher good are household robots for?), cleaning dishes (again, household robots), or any other wide variety of tasks.

It is my belief that allowing our minds to wander with regards to these “future ideals” of transhuman, “enhanced” life is an activity that can educate and instruct us on how we might live closer to those ideals now, and so make them “present ideals.”

For example, if one truly does not enjoy or see a value in cleaning dishes or driving oneself here and there, or preparing food (I use these examples because I choose to limit my involvement with these tasks myself), then should we not aim to escape these tasks now?

We might also imagine a world where we don’t feel a constant existential anxiety, or where we don’t feel jealous, or where we aren’t prone to fits of depression. The idea of improving our overall wellbeing by eliminating or dulling some of the painful (or simply not preferred) emotional experiences  is an appealing one for many transhumanists (see David Pearce’s work on SuperHappiness)

b) Enhancing What We Do Want

Looking into the future of enhancing human life and intelligence is obviously not just about eliminating tasks or elements of life that we find annoying or detrimental, but about enhancing that which we enjoy, that which brings richness to our lives, that which promotes our desired results.

We might imagine a world where we could split our mental activity and study music, literature – or any other area of interest – simultaneously with 100% retention of knowledge, and a heightened ability to connect and enhance a possibilities of each.

We might imagine a world where we could develop friendships and relationships with virtual avatars of our favorite figures from history. We might imagine a world where we could eliminate all of our other humans needs, and marshall our entire consciousness towards what we value most (be that scientific progress in a particular field, protection and stewarding the natural environment, etc).

Ray Kurvweil’s example of our experience of food in the future is as much about eliminating the worries and concerns of food’s impact on our functioning as it is about enhancing the experience which we most value about food itself.

The list goes on and on, of course.

c) Letting Future Ideals Influence Present Ideals

Just as knowledge of fulfillment and the “good” in biological life can and should positively instruct the forward motion of technological enhancement, so should our imagination of future potentials of technology be used to reflect on and positively instruct the present.

If we see a further potential or ideal – aught we not aim to not only move towards it technologically – but also move towards it in the present? Some of these present applications involve significant resources – while others do not.

For example, not everyone does or should resent household chores of cooking, cleaning, and organizing, but if you do, why do we not hire someone? (I actually do hire others for cooking and cleaning.)

If you pray for when technology allows for your ability to delve into all the topics of your fascination – you aught determine if you’re making the most of your ability to do so in the present. Is there a day or time where you can cut off distraction and focus on particular, rich areas of interest?

If a friend told you that they couldn’t wait for “the Singularity” so that their consciousness can finally be set free of the horrible job and unfulfilling marriage they were trapped in – would you not advise them to possibly change these circumstances now?

Maximization of Future and Present – A Living Experiment

As someone fascinated with living as many good hours as possible, I’m very enthusiastic about the refinement of our understanding of these future and present ideals.

I believe, in fact, that the determination and movement towards the most beneficial transition to transhumanism is one of the most important intellectual and scientific activities conceivable (IE: the shaping of the seemingly limitless possibilities of sentient potential).

On the other hand, I believe that living our present lives without reaching for our ideals is a shame – and that refining our approach to match these ideals is a vigilant activity.

I know that in my own life, I aim not to involve myself outside the domains of:

  • My highest aspirations of contribution (namely, facilitating the discourse about the evolution of consciousness and intelligence, striving for the most beneficial “Singularity” scenario)
  • The positive development of my character and skills
  • My important relationships

Though each person’s life is different (and rightfully so), my ideals have absolutely nothing to do with dishes, driving, laundry, etc…

Of course this does not change the fact that I eat, I occasionally need to travel, and I wear clothes.

There are plenty of other tasks or seemingly necessary items which do not in the slightest relate to my ideals. Other examples involve business activities which I do not see as furthering the skills that I want to spend my hours developing in order to reach my aspirations and make the most of myself on my own term.

Examples involve pre-programming social media content, cleaning the facilities, instructing certain classes (I run a martial arts academy), and so forth.

My answer to all of these “non-ideal necessities” is to either:

  1. Cut them out completely. Some items merely seem like necessities, but are not – and may be eliminated.
  2. Limit involvement with them as much as possible. With showering (which I occasionally enjoy but see mostly as a “non-ideal necessity”) this has involved a thorough system for quickly and efficiently “getting done” what a shower needs to do – bringing the time below 4 minutes.
  3. Delegate as completely as possible. Get someone else to handle what isn’t aligned for you. At present I am anything but “wealthy” as a just-out-of-grad-school small business owner, but I’ve made it a priority to defend my “good hours” by hiring others to do the groceries, the dishes, the folding and putting away of clothing, and any number of tasks which I know for a fact don’t align with where my “good hours” belong.

The extent to which I intend to carry out this representation of my ideals is… as far as possible. Some “ideal enhancement” examples include:

  • I plan to at some future point be driven everywhere I need to go so that my mind can stay focused on my focus areas (aspirations, character/skills, relationships), and not “road.”
  • Though I don’t plan to do so with all meals, I plan to have many meals made in advance in “smoothie” form, so that the occasionally “non-ideal” necessity of consuming food doesn’t interrupt the 3 areas described above. Some might say that eating a nice meal can be a necessary break from hard physical or mental labor, and I would sometimes agree but I might often choose for this “break” to take the form of reading Marcus Aurelius, taking a walk, skimming through the analytics data of my business websites, or writing a note to a friend.
  • Editing small inconveniences. Does it take me too much time to pull out and plug in my laptop cord when I go to work or get home from work? Well, then I aught have 2 cords always plugged in. Is it annoying and interruptive to have to leave work to get food? Then I will have a refrigerator at work. These small edits are best made at the first sign of their limiting one’s ideal life in the moment.
  • Hiring the foremost experts in whatever fields I am interested in to coach or instruct me personally, rather than merely reading their books.
  • Bringing together the greatest minds in the areas I am interested in or working on and carrying on a round table discussion with them, rather than imagining how rich their conversation on this topic might be.

Of course I bare in mind that some of these ideals require resources that I have yet to attain, but I believe in making note of and holding them in my mind regardless. For me, this process of allowing our present ideals to mold our transition into the future is essential in AI and transhumanism, but that the limitlessness of “enhanced” potential should inspire “enhanced” ideas / ways to live our ideals now.

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