2013 / 14 May

Transhuman Possibilities and the “Epitome of Freedom”


I am still of the belief that two of the most important conversations we can have with regards to the future of humanity and of sentient life in general are (a) how the transition to transhumanism could / should take place, and (b) where we would like this transition to inevitably leave us. This short work will have to do with the latter – and it’s emphasis will be a transhuman future ideal state that exemplifies the notion of “freedom.”

I’ll begin with identifying what “freedom” means, why it might be desirable (and why it might not be), and how it might be ideally attained in a technologically advanced future.

Freedom can be defined (by meriam-webster.com) as “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.”

As human beings, a sense of autonomy and self-possession is essential to our well-being. It is a constituent of fulfillment based on the nature that we have been granted. We should not suppose, however, that it is inherently “good” in and of itself, though as humans this inkling of “freedom = good” is easy to make, as most all of us want it, and want more of it.

It might be possible, for example, for a species to have evolved with a desire to be directed externally, to be constrained in certain ways and so gain a sense of safety and order. These inklings also exist within us as humans, and it might be supposed that if these were more prominent than our drive for freedom, we might not have any noticeably less fulfilling lives (again, assuming that this drive for safety and order was more fulfilling and prominent than that for freedom and autonomy).

However, freedom and autonomy likely served a very important role in our development as a species, and continue to play a role in our transition beyond biological intelligence. We seek expansion, betterment, exploration, and for this reason we see the societies, cultures, and technological advancements of the day. We seek to gain more of what we want, and to have our own wants and pursue them.

Before delving into the “epitome of freedom” as a transhuman idea to be striven for, I aught address that “freedom” may not necessarily be good in and of itself (or only in certain contexts). Our human brains associate autonomy and freedom with fulfillment and well-being, but this is no innate requirement of sentient beings. We associate “dignity” with freedom, but this association may matter little outside of our notions and perspectives as humans.

However, freedom does seem to have taken us to where we are today, and we can assume that it could serve a utility in our explorations of consciousness / sentient potential (and so the future of sentient beings). Hence, it may prove useful as a transhuman ideal as it is not stagnant, and may reveal more and greater levels of potential modes of existence. If our transhuman future aims not only for proliferation of the “good” life for conscious beings (whatever that ends up meaning [let us hope it implied well-being]), but also for continued progress in exploring the possibilities of conscious experience, then the “epitome of freedom” may be a model of a transhuman future that we find desirable.

If all (originally) human consciousness were to be put in a state of relatively unthinking super-bliss, our subjective quality of life might skyrocket beyond all imagination – but “we” as previously human consciousness would not be contributing to the furthering of our own potential, or the discovery of further possibilities of capability of well-being. In a situation of unbridled freedom, human consciousness might not only control and enjoy experience, but might vigilantly find new possibilities which all sentient beings could learn from and gain from. If there was an established method for these new discoveries to be shared or proliferated (either between conscious entities or through the medium of some super-intelligence), then each free entity – even if in its own virtual world – might gain and discover new experiences / capacities / ways of being that all other intelligent life could learn from or draw from.

What the Epitome of Freedom Might Look Like

Given the potential of future technologies, certainty is the last thing we have with regards to what the world might look like, but we might “paint a picture” as many fiction writers and futurists have aptly done, in order to explore how the expression of different ideals might look and feel in the future.

If freedom is carried to it’s extreme, then it seems as though individual entities would wield direct control over their own feelings, their own action, their own experiences, etc… This kind of enhanced “free will” (a term I use tentatively, given it’s philosophical ramifications) would involve one experiencing just the emotions and thoughts that it might find most conducive to it’s development or the attainment of it’s desires.

In my opinion, for the epitome of freedom to be attained, virtual reality would have to be it’s domain – and I would argue that the human form in and of itself would very swiftly become irrelevant. Below I will explore why I have made these two hypotheses.

On Virtual Freedom Over Freedom in Present Reality

If the future of sentience does in fact involve the maintained identity and separateness of individual entities, then “freedom” could only extend so far in a real world as to border on impinging on the “freedom” of others. Complete freedom would imply control over one’s environment and free choice to do what one would chose with it. It seems easy to understand how this might imply the threatening of the freedom of others in the same physical world.

Not to mention, the physical world has many impinging qualities that would hinder any semblance of complete freedom. Matter has qualities, light has qualities, and physical bodies (no matter how enhanced) will always have limitations. If you’d like to change an aspect of our character or emotional experience, for example, we’d have to potentially tinker with brain chemicals (more explorations on this topic on Dr. James Hughes article here on Buddhism and Human Enhancement). In a virtual reality, we are potentially presented not only with the freedom to extend beyond physical limitations (to transport to different times or places, to live within self-created fantasy worlds, to eliminate death and any physical risk), we would also be granted freedom from impinging or effecting others – and so allow for their full freedom an a separate virtual reality as well.

For this reason, it seems to make sense that (assuming our future will involve the continued existence of individual consciousnesses) we might encounter a Bostrom-like “Singleton” to rule the physical world, and a great sea of individual consciousnesses in the virtual world. The “Singleton” could keep our computational substrates safe from harm and eliminate competition or danger in the physical world, while our virtual “selves” would be capable of expressing and exploring the epitome of freedom on our own terms in a limitless virtual world of our own creation.

It should be briefly noted that this “epitome of freedom” situation need not involve lots of “little consciousnesses,” but may in fact be chosen as the way of being for a single, overarching intelligence that aims to expand indefinitely. Hence, this “Singleton” might take on this value of freedom itself.

On the Abandonment of Human Form Altogether

At present – as with many projections of the future – this thought is not particularly comforting or comfortable to contemplate at present, but I believe it is worth addressing as it seems relatively eminent with our without the “epitome of freedom” scenario.

Though most futurist projections involve an eventual kind of “uploading” into a virtual world or new, post-human body. Even in the projection of a virtual reality, most futurist images involve new, wonderfully capable humanoid bodies. In my opinion – particularly in virtual reality and even in our shared “reality” itself – this anthropomorphism is as preposterous as “Rosie” (the robotic maid) from the Jetsons cartoon having a maid’s apron and big radio antennae sticking out of her robot head. It is a projection into the future given the knowledge and forms we are familiar with today.

The year 3000 will not be like a giant simulation of Sim City, with simulated humanoid bodies hustling about, going to work, and worrying about remembering milk at the grocery store or making it through a traffic jam (unless we explicitly create this kind of world as some kind of fun experiment or joke). Rather, if consciousness is freed from physical form and given millions or billions of times greater capacity to understand, create, and control… then any semblance of human physical form will become obsolete outside of remembering a human past. Though I consider myself to be tremendously grateful for life – I can imagine that a post-human super-intelligent version of my sentience would have many more experiments, experiences, and objectives outside of remembering when I used to walk on two legs, practice martial arts and enjoy eating sushi.

I very much resonate with the 2045 project, and believe it to be more relevant an effort (assuming continued technological developments) to better sentient beings than literally anything else we might focus on at present here on earth. Their eventual objective of bringing human consciousness to a level of focus and exploration of the heights of spiritual self-improvement is an ideal that I resonate with (though others may not). However, their projection of the creation of super-capable humanoid “Avatars” capable of living in physical or virtual worlds is a transition that I would see as only a very short interlude before a complete transcendence of form altogether (never mind anything remotely human). At that point of massively expanded capability, I don’t believe that we will need any kind of human form to navigate or make sense of our world, and that the projection of this form into the future most likely represents a kind of anthropomorphic bias.

I also don’t believe that our race will see significant biological evolution beyond our present state, os most predictions of such do not factor in non-biological developments (http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/stories/projecting-human-evolution-5-traits-we-might-possess-in-t).

Potential Dangers of This “Epitome of Freedom” Scenario

As stated before, this particular idea of the “Epitome of Freedom” which we explore today implies one particular variation of a transhuman existence where individual consciousnesses are presented with virtual worlds in which to expand indefinitely and without restriction. It should be emphasized that this is not the only potential post-human existence which we might deem possible, and that this possibility itself is not without it’s own tremendous risks to sentient well-being.

First, if “we” as previously biological consciousnesses are housed in some kind of computational substrate in a “real” world, then there is a distinct danger of something happening to that computational substrate itself. If our “housing” computer is destroyed, tampered with, or contracts some form of virus, this might imply our swift elimination. For example, the entity in control of our physical substrate might determine that it could use our computing space more adequately for other purpose, and merely flush us from the system immediately, even amidst all of our God-like virtual expansion. Poof.

Second, this situation might imply the creation of a “hell” equivalent, where our infinitely experiencing and infinitely conscious “selves” become trapped in a world of tremendous pain and suffering, on such a torturous and terrible scale that it could easily outweigh all of the suffering in human history. This “virtual hell” might be created by our own mishaps in the expression of creativity and freedom in a virtual world, but we can imagine it might also be brought about via a virus or malicious being with access to our virtual world. This appears to be a real and legitimate threat, and a serious consideration for humanity as it transfers consciousness into other substrates.

In Conclusion

The “epitome of freedom” is one of countless potential world’s of the future, and implies the triumph of the value of autonomy. In the actual future we face, there may in fact be no individual consciousness entities, nor may there be any innate value to “freedom” – particularly for little formerly human consciousnesses. However, I have here explored why this possibility may be desirable for individuals and for the sentient world as a whole – as it implies the constant creation of new modes of being, new experiences and capacities, etc…, which may serve some utility to the conscious community as a whole. I have also posited as to why it seems imperative that super-capable free agents would likely be best off in individual virtual realities – as opposed to sharing a physical world where they might do permanent damage to the environment or each other.

As to what the future will actually bring about – we cannot possibly know. However, it seems safe to say that just as man imagined his travel to the moon well before the actual flight took place – the ideals and possibilities of transhumanism laid out today will be determining factors in how the future of consciousness transpires. In the best case scenario, our greatest concern will be dealing with the boring prospect of eternal life, which to me doesn’t seem all that boring if we’re endowed with the faculties to make the most of it.. Let us be vigilant, let us collaborate, and let us aim to find the best path forward.