Self Driving Cars and Ethics. It’s a topic that has been debated in blogs, op-eds, academic research papers, and youtube videos. Everyone wants to know, if a self-driving car has to choose between sacrificing its occupant, or terminating a car full of nobel prize winners, who will it pick? Will it be programmed to sacrifice for the greater good, or protect itself — and its occupants — at all costs? But in the swirl of hypothetical discussion around jaywalking Grandmas, buses full of school-children, Kantian Ethics and cost-maps, one crucial question is being forgotten:
What about the Squirrels?
What is your take on the ethics of driverless vehicles? Should programmers attempt to give vehicles the ability to weigh moral problems, or just vehicles only have the aim of self-preservation?
In April, Scientists based in Philadelphia unveiled an artificial womb undergoing testing on fetal lambs. With a prediction from one of the researchers that the technology could be ready for human testing in three to five years, artificial wombs suddenly became the most unexpected rage of 2017. But what sort of artificial wombs might realistically be a part of healthcare in the near future?
In this video series, the Galactic Public Archives takes bite-sized looks at a variety of terms, technologies, and ideas that are likely to be prominent in the future. Terms are regularly changing and being redefined with the passing of time. With constant breakthroughs and the development of new technology and other resources, we seek to define what these things are and how they will impact our future.
One of the most symbolic and substantively important examples of environmental conflict is over Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is the first national park in the world, and perhaps the most important natural treasure in the US. More recently it has become a site for bitter and long-lasting environmental conflict. And it has made me wonder how the scientific arguments around the issues sit with the emotional reactions inspired by the landscape and history.
There is often imagined to be a struggle between humans and nature. How does this struggle originate, and what is its resolution? Such a question is central to some religious traditions, and has much room to be explored in literature.
Nature is used to describe everything that lies outside of human agency. Disasters and disease often fall under this description, although there is usually some element of human blame in such problems. Some people try to live or eat according to preferences that they call “natural”. In my view, this is a fallacy. When we use the word natural with its only workable definition, to represent something distinct from human agency, it means that anything resulting from human agency is unnatural and so it cannot be natural (even if it imitates nature). When it applies to human choices, natural is only an arbitrary label used by people to refer to anything they approve of.
Why would humans battle against nature? Perhaps suffering can be described as the most imposing and constantly surfacing part of nature in our lives, because it is ultimately caused by the laws of biology rather than human wills. We humans have vulnerable bodies and we rely on vulnerable, easily destroyed brains to exist, although it is very apparent that we would prefer not to be exposed in this way. Because this is so, the struggle to overcome humanity’s physical and medical vulnerabilities can be depicted as a battle against nature – our nature.
The assertion that seeking invulnerability against suffering is an escape from cruel inevitabilities biology is certainly reflected in some philosophers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche. Despite seeing the transformation of humanity into a higher creature as a noble task, Nietzsche saw this as necessarily involving suffering. As for the desire to end suffering, he deplored this as a product of weakness and the inability to accept the forces outside human control.
Nietzsche addressed the way in which religious traditions give moral assurances against suffering. Religions offer promises of justice that run contrary to the natural order in which the strong are favored over the weak. The Christian doctrines of the fall of man and eternal Heaven are alike in their view that the world we know is flawed and polluted, and humans are instead meant to endure in paradise. Such myths have been easy for people to buy into, because it is often easier to tolerate suffering in the world and move on if one believes in a supernatural alternative – a cosmic safety net for the weak and the dead – after it.
The other manifestation of our weak human refusal to accept suffering, but which actually works, is the desire to use science and technology to thwart suffering. Once we remove the supernatural, the only remaining assurances against suffering can necessarily come from the modernity of technology. In this sense, the idea of a technological singularity, after which the very best technology permitted by the laws of physics will get within reach, represents the only “true” paradise that could ever be inherited.
But what if a paradise, an all-encompassing solution to suffering, is impossible? A universe with high suffering is inherently more likely than a universe without it, because the “anthropic principle” does not contain any guarantees against mortality and suffering. The anthropic principle says human life exists only because this is a requisite for us to notice our own existence. Therefore, the anthropic principle leads to a universe that merely tolerates conscious life for a limited time, rather than enriches it or sustains it. Contrary to religious claims, the universe in which we reside is not “designed” for us to inhabit, and we know this because it is mostly uninhabitable. The vacuum of space cannot be inhabited, and most locations in the universe have the wrong temperature or lack the elements needed for life to exist. What is conspicuous is that the universal constants allow us to exist, not in any kind of ideal state but just enough.
One can relate “extropy” (Kevin Kelly’s usage of the term) to the anthropic principle. Where the anthropic principle explains the human-friendly properties of the universe as existing simply because a human observer exists, extropy the guarantee of something even more complex and intelligent in the future. More than simply tolerating human life, then, a universe where humans exist includes the inevitability that human intelligence will evolve into or produce something far more enduring and glorious. After all, we are no pinnacle, and we are still witnessing an ongoing explosion of intelligence through such creations as the internet and the race to develop powerful AI.
Take a look at history and current cosmology, and we will see that extropy looks very valid. Humans have undeniably been improving their existence, and this is arguably due to the universe being filled with resources that are very friendly to our needs. There are seemingly infinite resources and tools in the universe for humans to exploit to improve their civilization, and the anthropic principle alone did not necessary contain any guarantee that such useful “equipment” would exist. Conceivably, there could be worlds where intelligent life exists but there can be no fire. There might also have been no sufficient quantities of ores or effective tools to build an advanced civilization. Certainly, humans have a lot more at their fingertips than the minimal equipment promised to them by the anthropic principle. Although there is not necessarily a God to thank for it, there is a lot to be thankful for.
What if there was a world where conditions were less favorable? Perhaps, if humans were too vulnerable, there would be less potential to develop civilization, and instead all thought would be dedicated to staying alive. A work of fiction I have dedicated to exploring this theme, The Traveller and Pandemonium, takes place in a more hostile universe than ours (as permitted in the “many-worlds hypothesis”), where a traveler is not convinced by the idea that humanity could have arisen in such unfavorable conditions. Determining that humanity belongs in another world, he searches vainly for the solution.
The traveler keeps his quest secret, aware that most people will condemn him as a religious nut searching for Heaven if he talks about it, but there is actually a rational basis for his view that humans belong elsewhere. The world in which he resides is genuinely toxic and inhospitable to humanity, humans are vulnerable to every creature in the world around them, and they are rapidly going extinct. It looks like a human colonization gone awry on a hostile alien world, although no-one knows how it got that way.
The two strategies against suffering in the world can be described as surgical and spiritual. Those who advocate “spiritual” solutions are only offering window-dressing to humanity while they greedily seek power. Those who advocate “surgical” solutions might not seem beautiful or perfect in what they promise, but they are the only ones promising something real, offering something tangible that could really fight away the uglier characteristics of the universe and save what can be saved.
Literature has served an indispensable purpose in exploring ethical and political themes. This remains true of sci-fi and fantasy, even if there is such a thing as reading too much politics into fictional work or over-analyzing.
Since Maquis Books published The Traveller and Pandemonium, a novel authored by me from 2011–2014, I have been responding as insightfully as possible to reviews and also discussing the book’s political and philosophical themes wherever I can. Set in a fictional alien world, much of this book’s 24 chapters are politically themed on the all too real human weakness of infighting and resorting to hardline, extremist and even messianic plans when faced with a desperate situation.
The story tells about human cultures battling to survive in a deadly alien ecosystem. There the human race, rather than keeping animals in cages, must keep their own habitats in cages as protection from the world outside. The human characters of the story live out a primitive existence not typical of science-fiction, mainly aiming at their own survival. Technological progress is nonexistent, as all human efforts have been redirected to self-defense against the threat of the alien predators.
Even though The Traveller and Pandemonium depicts humanity facing a common alien foe, the various struggling human factions still fail to cooperate. In fact, they turn ever more hostilely on each other even as the alien planet’s predators continue to close in on the last remaining human states. At the time the story is set, the human civilization on the planet is facing imminent extinction from its own infighting and extremism, as well as the aggressive native plant and animal life of the planet.
The more sinister of the factions, known as the Cult, preaches the pseudo-religious doctrine that survival on the alien world will only be possible through infusions of alien hormones and the rehabilitation of humanity to coexist with the creatures of the planet at a biological level. However, there are censored side effects of the infusions that factor into the plot, and the Cult is known for its murderous opposition to anyone who opposes its vision.
The only alternative seems to be a second faction, but it is equally violent, and comes under the leadership of an organization who call themselves the Inquisitors. In their doctrine, humans must continue to isolate themselves from the alien life of the planet, but this should extend to exterminating the alien life and the aforementioned Cult that advocates humans transmuting themselves to live safely on the planet.
I believe that this aspect of the story, a battle between two militant philosophies, serves well to capture the kind of tension and violent irrationality that can engulf humanity in the face of existential risks. There is no reason to believe that hypothetical existential risks to humanity such as a deadly asteroid impact, an extraterrestrial threat, runaway global warming, alien contact or a devastating virus would unite the planet, and there is every reason to believe that it would divide the planet. It is often the case that the more argument there is for authority and submission to a grand plan in order to survive, the greater the differences of opinion and the greater the potential for divergence and conflict. Social habits, politics, beliefs and even the cultural trappings of the different human cultures clinging to the alien planet are fully represented in the book. In all, the story has had significant time and care put into refining it to create a compelling and believable depiction of life in an inhospitable parallel world, and readers remarked in reviewsthat it is a “masterclass in world-building”. The central character of the story, nicknamed the Traveler, together with his companion, do not really subscribe to either of the extremist philosophies battling over humanity’s fate on the alien planet, but their ideas may be equally strange. Instead, they reject the alien world in which they live. With an almost religious naïveté, they are searching for a “better place”. It is through this part of the plot that the concepts of religious faith and hope are visited. Of course, at all times the reader knows they are right – there is a “better place” only not the religious kind. Ultimately, the quest is for Earth, although the characters have never heard of such a place and have only inferred that it might somehow exist and represent an escape from the hostile planet where they were born. Reviewers have acknowledged that by inverting the relationship of humanity and nature so that nature is on the advance and humans are receding and diminishing in the setting of this science-fiction novel, a unique and compelling setting is created. I believe the story offers my best exploration of a number of political and ethical themes, such as how people feel pressured to choose between hardline factions in times of extreme desperation and in the face of existential threats. Science fiction is a worthy medium in which to express and explore not only the future, but some of the most troubling political and philosophical scenarios that have plagued humanity’s past.
- @ClubOfINFO — A recent massive leap forward in synthetic life, recently published in Nature, is the expansion of the alphabet of DNA to six letters rather than four, by synthetic biologists – the technicians to whom we entrust the great task of reprogramming life itself.
Breakthroughs such as the above are quite certain to alert more and more people to synthetic biology and its possible consequences. For as long as such breathtaking discoveries continue to be made in this area of research, it is inevitable that latent fears among society will come closer to the surface.
There is likely to be a profound distrust, whether inculcated by religion or by science fiction horror movies and literature, towards the concept of tampering with nature and especially the very building blocks that brought us into existence. While the people with this profoundly negative reaction are not sure what they are warning against, they are motivated by a vitalistic need to believe that the perversion of life is going to provoke hidden – almost divine – repercussions.
Is it really true that no-one should be meddling with something so fundamental to life, or is synthetic biology the science of our century, our civilization’s key to unlimited energy? Whatever the answer may be, the science enabling it already exists and is growing rapidly, and history seems to show that any technology once invented is impossible to contain.
The fact that synthetic base pairs now exist should confirm, for many, the beginning of humanity’s re-engineering of the structures of life itself. As it is unprecedented in our evolution, we are presented with an ethical question and all points of view should be considered, no matter how radical or conservative they are.
It is hard to find a strong display of enthusiasm for the use of synthetic biology as a solution to the world’s greatest problems, even among the transhumanists and techno-progressives. Most of the popular enthusiasm for technological change, particularly the radical improvement of life and the environment through technology, focuses on artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and things like solar cells as the solution to energy crises. There is not much of a popular case being made for synthetic biology as one of the keys to civilization’s salvation and humanity’s long-term survival, but there should be. The first obstacles to such a case are most likely fear and prejudice.
Even among those theorists who offer the most compelling arguments about self-sustaining technologies and their potential to democratize and change the means of production, enthusiasm for synthetic biology is purposely withheld. Yannick Rumpala’s paper Additive manufacturing as global remanufacturing of politics has a title that speaks for itself. It sees in 3d printing the potential to exorcize some of the most oppressive structural inevitabilities of the current division of labor, transforming economics and politics to be more network-based and egalitarian. When I suggested to Yannick that synthetic organisms – the most obvious choices of technology that will be able to self-replicate and become universally available at every stratum of global society – he was reserved. This was half due to not having reflected on biotechnology’s democratic possibilities, and half due to a principled rejection of “artificial environments”.
Should synthetic biology make people nervous rather than excited, and should be it be rejected as controversial and potentially dangerous rather than embraced as a potentially world-changing and highly democratic technology? The second tendency that results in a rejection of synthetic biology by those who normally go about endorsing technology as the catalyst for social change is the tendency to point to a very specific threat – a humanity-threatening virus.
This second rejection of synthetic biology is easier to respond to than the first, because it is very specific. In fact, the threat is discussed in sufficient depth by synthetic biology’s own leading scientist himself, J. Craig Venter, in his 2013 book Life at the Speed of Light. In anticipation of a viral threat, “bio-terror” is considered the top danger by the US government, but “bio-error” is seen by Venter as an even bigger danger. There is a possibility of individual accidents using synthetic biology, analogous to medical accidents from overdoses. It could involve a virus introduced as a treatment for cancer becoming dangerous (like in the movie, I Am Legend). This is especially possible, if the technology becomes ubiquitous and “DIY”, with individuals customizing their own treatments by synthesizing viruses. However, many household materials and technologies already present the same level of threat to lone individuals, so there is no reason to focus on the popular use of synthetic biology as an extraordinary threat.
A larger scale disaster is far easier to prevent than the death or illness of a lone individual from his own synthetic biology accident. A bio-terror attack, Venter writes, would be extremely difficult using synthetic biology. Synthetic biology is going to give medical professionals the ability to quickly sequence genomes and transmit them on the airwaves to synthesize new vaccines. This would only make it easier to fight against bioterror or a potentially apocalyptic virus, as the threat could be found and sequenced by computers, with the cure being synthesized and introduced almost immediately. Despite this fact that synthetic biology provides the best defense against its own possible threats, it is still important to be balanced in our recognition of the benefits and threats of this technology.
More dangerous than a virus breaking loose from the lab, Venter recognizes the potential for the abuse of synthetic biology by hostile governments. Of most concern, custom viruses could be used as assassins against individuals, whether by governments or conspirators. A cold could be created to have no effect on most people, but be deadly to the President of the United States. All you would need to do is get access to a sample of the President’s genetic material, sequence it, and develop a corresponding virus that exploits a unique weakness in his/her DNA. This danger in particular seems to be more worthy of concern than an apocalyptic virus or devastating bioterrorist attack striking the whole of humanity.
The ethical burden on those who work with synthetic life, as Venter takes from a US government bioethics study, requires “a balance between the pessimistic view of these efforts as yet another example of hubris and the optimistic view of their being tantamount to “human progress” ”. Synthetic biologists must be “good stewards”, and must “move genomic research forward with caution, armed with insights from value traditions with respect to the proper purposes and uses of knowledge.”
However, there is also an undeniable reason to embrace synthetic biology as a solution to many of the world’s most urgent problems. J. Craig Venter’s own words confirm that synthetic life deserves to be included in Yannick Rumpala’s analysis, as a democratic technology that can transform global politics and economics and counter disparity in the world:
“Creating life at the speed of light is part of a new industrial revolution that will see manufacturing shift away from the centralized factories of the past to a distributed, domestic manufacturing future, thanks to 3-d printers.”
There may be a terrible threat from synthetic biology, but it will not necessarily be bio-error or bio-terror. The abuse could come from none other than a very familiar leviathan that has already violated the trust of its citizens before: the supposedly incorruptible United States government. Already, there is an interest in sequencing everyone’s genomes and placing them on a massive database, ostensibly for medical purposes. One cannot help but connect this with the US government’s fascination with tracking and monitoring its own citizens. If the ability to customize a virus to target an individual is true, the killer state will almost certainly maintain the military option of synthetic biology on the table – a possible way of carrying out “targeted killings” around the world in a more sophisticated and secretive manner than ever before.
The threats of synthetic biology are elusive and verge on being conspiracy theories or overused movie plots, but the magnificent potential of synthetic biology to eliminate inequality and suffering in the world is clear and present. In fact, the greatest bio-disaster in the history of the world may be humanity’s reluctance to remanufacture life in order to make more efficient use of the world’s declining natural resources. At the same time, the belief that ubiquitous synthetic biology will threaten life is secondary and distracting, as the true responsibility for unjustly threatening life is likely to always be with the state.
All religions have points of agreement concerning human toil and its relationship to the divine. This essay considers some of the Biblical and Hellenic parables of human origin, specifically the origins of human knowledge and instrumentality.
Here I want to present how knowledge and instrumentality are reported to originate with an act of mischief, specifically the theft of a divine artifact. My argument is that, although the possession of knowledge may be seen as a sin to be atoned for, the kind of atonement originally promoted may have simply been for us to apply our knowledge constructively in our lives. The concept of atoning for original sin (whether it is the Biblical or Hellenic sin) can then be justified with secular arguments. Everyone can agree that we retain the capacity for knowledge, and this means our atonement for the reported theft of such knowledge would simply rest with the use of the very same tool we reportedly stole.
The story of the titan Prometheus, from ancient Greek mythology, has been interpreted and reinterpreted many times. A great deal of writers and organizations have laid claim to the symbolism of Prometheus, including in modern times.  I would argue that too many writers diluted and over-explored the meaning of the parable by comparing everything to it, although this is not the focus of my essay. Greek mythology is notably weak on the subject of “good and evil” because it predates the Judeo-Christian propagation of their dualism, and this means most of the characters in Greek mythology can be defended or condemned without violating Hellenic theology. Prometheus as a mythic figure could be condemned from a Christian standpoint, because he seems strikingly similar to other scriptural characters engaged in a revolt against the divine. Yet the spirit of Prometheus and his theft has also been endorsed by people and organizations, such as the transhumanists who see him as an expression of the noblest human aspirations. 
The widely repeated version of the Prometheus story holds that Prometheus was a titan, a primordial deity who literally stole a sample of fire from Olympus and handed it down to humans. Prometheus was subsequently punished by the gods, who nailed him to a mountain and trapped him in a time-loop so that an eagle repeatedly ate his liver before it was regenerated to be eaten yet again. However, contrary to popular belief, the Prometheus parable is not mainly about the theft of fire but about the creation of the first man. According to Apollodorus’ Library dating from the First or Second Century AD:
“After he had fashioned men from water and earth, Prometheus also gave them fire, which he had hidden in a fennel stalk in secret from Zeus. But when Zeus learned of it, he ordered Hephiastos to nail his body to Mount Caucasos (a mountain that lies in Scythia). So Prometheus was nailed to it and held fast there for a good many years; and each day, an eagle swooped down to feed on the lobes of his liver, which grew again by night. Such was the punishment suffered by Prometheus for having stolen the fire, until Heracles later released him, as we shall show in our account of Heracles.” 
Immediately, you may be eager to identify the differences between this account of humanity’s creation and the Abrahamic accounts. For example, man is created by the thief, Zeus punishes the thief rather than man (it may seem), and the punishment of the thief is not portrayed as good, because ultimately the hero Heracles is destined to set Prometheus free again. However, the similarities are striking. Mankind is believed, in this parable, to be a source of trouble for the gods because mankind’s unique power derives from the violation and theft of divine power. We also encounter the apparent responsibility of women for the release of evil, found in the parable of Pandora, noted in the Library as being described by Hesiod as a “beautiful evil.”  Pandora (meaning women) was inflicted on men as the punishment for their possession of fire, which directly connects the tale of Pandora with the tale of Prometheus. We may speculate that Hesiod’s Pandora story contributed misogyny in the way some have argued that the Genesis account justifies misogyny.  However, such misogyny would defy the notion that Pandora, unlike men, was created by the gods  and was not punished by them…
Dead Immortalist Sequence - #1: Immanuel Kant (1724−1804)
Kant is often misconstrued as advocating radical conformity amongst people, a common misconception drawn from his Categorical Imperative, which states that each should act as though the rules underlying his actions can be made a universal moral maxim. The extent of this universality, however, stops at the notion that each man should act as though the aspiration towards morality were a universal maxim. All Kant meant, I argue, was that each man should act as though the aspiration toward greater morality were able to be willed as a universal moral maxim.
This common misconception serves to illustrate another common and illegitimate portrayal of the Enlightenment tradition. Too often is the Enlightenment libelled for its failure to realize the ideal society. Too often is it characterized most essentially by its glorification of strict rationality, which engenders invalid connotations of stagnant, statuesque perfection – a connotation perhaps aided by the Enlightenment’s valorization of the scientific method, and its connotations of stringent and unvarying procedure and methodology in turn. This takes the prized heart of the Enlightenment tradition and flips it on its capsized ass. This conception of the Enlightenment tradition is not only wrong, but antithetical to the true organizing gestalt and prime impetus underlying the Age of the Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment wasn’t about realizing the perfect society but rather about idealizing the perfect society – the striving towards an ever-inactualized ideal which, once realized, would cease to be ideal for that very reason. The enlightenment was about unending progress towards that ideal state – for both Man as society and man as singular splinter — of an infinite forward march towards perfection, which upon definitively reaching perfection will have failed to achieve its first-sought prize. The virtue of the Enlightenment lies in the virtual, and its perfection in the infinite-perfectibility inherent in imperfection.
This truer, though admittedly less normative, interpretation of the Enlightenment tradition, taking into account its underlying motivations and projected utilities rather than simply taking flittered glints from the fallacious surface and holding them up for solid, tangible truth also serves to show the parallels between the Enlightenment gestalt and Transhumanism. James Hughes, for one, characterizes Transhumanism as a child of the Enlightenment Tradition .
One can see with intuitive lucidity that characterizing the Enlightenment’s valorization of rationality goes against the very underlying driver of that valorization. Rationality was exalted during the Age of Enlightenment for its potential to aid in skepticism toward tradition. Leave the chiseled and unmoving, petty perfection of the statue for the religious traditions the Enlightenment was rebelling against – the inviolable God with preordained plan, perfect for his completion and wielding total authority over the static substance of Man; give the Enlightenment rather the starmolten fire-afury and undulate aspiration toward ever-forth-becoming highers that it sprang from in the first place. The very aspects which cause us to characterize the enlightenment as limiting, rigid, and unmolten are those very ideals that, if never realized definitively — if instead made to form an ongoing indefinite infinity — would thereby characterize the Enlightenment tradition as a righteous roiling rebellion against limitation and rigour — as a flighty dive into the molten maelstrom of continuing mentation toward better and truer versions of ourselves and society that was its real underlying impetus from the beginning.
This truer gestalt of the Enlightenment impinges fittingly upon the present study. Kant is often considered one of the fathers of the Enlightenment. In a short essay entitled “What is the Enlightenment?” , Kant characterizes the essential archetype of Man (as seen through the lens of the Enlightenment) in a way wholly in opposition to the illegitimate conceptions of the Enlightenment described above — and in vehement agreement with the less-normative interpretation of the Enlightenment that followed. It is often assumed, much in line with such misconceptions, that the archetype of Man during the Age of the Enlightenment was characterized by rational rigour and scientific stringence. However, this archetype of the mindless, mechanical automaton was the antithesis of Man’s then-contemporary archetype; the automaton was considered rather the archetype of animality – which can be seen as antithetical to the Enlightenment’s take on Man’s essence, with its heady rationality and lofty grasping towards higher ideals. In his essay, Kant characterizes the Enlightenment’s archetype of Man as the rebellious schoolboy who cannot and shall not be disciplined into sordid subservience by his schoolmasters. Here Kant concurs gravely from beyond the grave that Man’s sole central and incessant essence is his ongoing self-dissent, his eschewing of perverse obligation, his disleashing the weathered tethers of limitation, and his ongoing battle with himself for his own self-creation.
It is this very notion of infinite progress towards endlessly-perfectable states of projected perfection that, too, underlies his ties to Immortalism. Indeed, his claim that to retain morality we must have comprehensively unending lives – that is, we must never ever die – rests cruxially on this premise.
In his Theory of Ethics  under Part III: The Summum Bonnum, God and Immortality , Kant argues that his theory of ethics necessitates the immortality of the soul in order to remain valid according to the axioms it adheres to. This is nothing less than a legitimation of the desirability of personal immortality from a 1700’s-era philosophical rockstar. It is important to note that the aspects making it so crucial in concern to Kant’s ethical system have to do with immortality in general, and indeed would have been satisfied according to non-metaphysical (i.e. physical and technological) means – having more to do with the end of continued life and indefinite-lonbgevity or Superlongevity in particular, than with the particular means used to get there, which in his case is a metaphysical means. Karl Ameriks writes in reference to Kant here: “… the question of immortality is to be understood as being about a continued temporal existence of the mind. The question is not whether we belong to the realm beyond time but whether we will persist through all time…Kant also requires this state to involve personal identity.” . While Kant did make some metaphysical claims tied to immortality – namely the association of degradation and deterioration with physicality, which when combined with the association of time with physicality may have led to his characterization of the noumenal realm (being the antithesis of the phenomenal realm) as timeless and free from causal determination. These claims are beyond the purview of this essay however, and will only be touched upon briefly; what is important to take away is that the metaphysical and non-metaphysical justifications are equally suitable vehicles for Kant’s destination.
Note that any italics appearing within direct quotations are not my own and are recorded as they appeared in the original. All italics external to direct quotations are my own. In the 4th Section, The immortality of the soul as a postulate of pure practical reason , of the 3rd Part of Theory of Ethics, Kant writes: “Pure practical reason postulates the immortality of the soul, for reason in the pure and practical sense aims at the perfect good (summum bonnum), and this perfect good is only possible on the supposition of the soul’s immortality.” 
Kant is claiming here that reason (in both senses with which they are taken into account in his system – that is, as pure reason and practical reason) is aimed at perfection, which he defines as continual progress towards the perfect good – rather than the attainment of any such state of perfection, and that as finite beings we can only achieve such perfect good through an unending striving towards it.
In a later section, The Antinomy of Practical Reason (and its Critical Solution) , he describes the Summum Bonnum as “the supreme end of a will morally determined”. In an earlier section, The Concept of the Summum Bonnum , Kant distinguishes between two possible meanings for Summum; it can mean supreme in the sense of absolute (not contingent on anything outside itself), and perfect (not being part to a larger whole). I take him to claim that it means both.
He also claims personal immortality is a necessary condition for the possibility of the perfect good. In the same section he describes the Summum Bonnum as the combination of two distinct features: happiness and virtue (defining virtue as worthiness of being happy, and in this section synonymizing it with morality). Both happiness and virtue are analytic and thus derivable from empirical observation.
However, their combination in the Summum Bonnum does not follow from either on its own and so must be synthetic, or reliant upon a-priori cognitive principals, Kant reasons. I interpret this as Kant’s claiming that the possibility of the Summum Bonnum requires God and the Immortality of the Soul because this is where Kant grounds his a-priori, synthetic, noumenal world — i.e. the domain where those a-priori principals exist (in/as the mind of God, for Kant).
” It is the moral law which determines the will, and in this will the perfect harmony of the mind with the moral law is the supreme condition of the summum bonnum… the perfect accordance of the will with the moral law is holiness, a perfection of which no rational being of the sensible world is capable at any moment of his existence. Since, nevertheless, it is required as practically necessary, it can only be found in a progress in infinitum towards that perfect accordance, and on the principles of pure practical reason is nonetheless necessary to assume such a practical progress as the real object of our will.” 
Thus not only does Kant argue for the necessitated personal immortality of the soul by virtue of the fact that perfection is unattainable while constrained by time, he argues along an alternate line of reasoning that such perfection is nonetheless necessary for our morality, happiness and virtue, and that we must thus therefor progress infinitely toward it without ever definitively reaching it if the Summum Bonum is to remain valid according to its own defining-attributes and categorical-qualifiers as-such.
“Now, this endless progress is only possible on the supposition of an endless duration of existence and personality of the same rational being (which is called the immorality of the soul). The summum bonnum, then, practically is only possible on the supposition of the immortality of the soul; consequently this immortality, being inseparably connected with the moral law, is a postulate of pure practical reason (by which I mean a theoretical proposition, not demonstrable as such, but which is an inseparable result of an unconditional a priori practical law). This principal of the moral destination of our nature, namely, that it is only in an endless progress that we can attain perfect accordance with the moral law… For a rational but finite being, the only thing possible is an endless progress from the lower to higher degrees of moral perfection. In Infinite Being, to whom the condition of time is nothing… is to be found in a single intellectual intuition of the whole existence of rational beings. All that can be expected of the creature in respect of the hope of this participation would be the consciousness of his tried character, by which, from the progress he has hitherto made from the worse to the morally better, and the immutability of purpose which has thus become known to him, he may hope for a further unbroken continuance of the same, however long his existence may last, even beyond this life, and thus may hope, not indeed here, nor in any imaginable point of his future existence, but only in the endlessness of his duration (which God alone can survey) to be perfectly adequate to his will.” 
So, Kant first argues that the existence of the Summum Bonnum requires the immorality of the soul both a.) because finite beings conditioned by time by definition cannot achieve the absolute perfection of the Summum Bonnum, and can only embody it through perpetual progress towards it, and b.) because the components of the Summum Bonnum (both of which must be co-present for it to qualify as such) are unitable only synthetically through a priori cognitive principals, which he has argued elsewhere must exist in a domain unconditioned by time (which is synonymous with his conception of the noumenal realm) and which must thus be perpetual for such an extraphysical realm to be considered unconditioned by time and thus noumenal. The first would correspond to Kant’s strict immortalist underpinnings, and the second to the alternate (though not necessarily contradictory) metaphysical justification alluded to earlier.
Once arguing that the possibility of the Summum Bonnum requires personal immortality, he argues that our freedom/autonomy, which he locates as the will (and further locates the will as being determined by the moral law) also necessitates the Summum Bonnum. This would correspond to his more embryonically-Transhumanist inclinations. In the first section [The Concept of Summum Bonnum] he writes “It is a priori (morally) necessary to produce the summum bonnum by freedom of will…”. I interpret this statement in the following manner. He sees morality as a-priori and synthetic, and the determining principal which allows us to cause in the world without being caused by it — i.e. for Kant our freedom (i.e. the quality of not being externally-determined) requires the noumenal realm because otherwise we are trapped in the freedom-determinism paradox. Thus the Summum Bonnum also vicariously necessitates the existence of God, because this is necessary for the existence of a noumenal realm unaffected by physical causation (note that Kant physicality ‘the sensible world’). Such a God could be (and indeed has been described by Kant in terms which would favor this interpretation) synonymous with the entire noumenal realm, with every mind forming but an atom as it were in the larger metaorganismal mind of a sort of meta-pantheistic, quasi-Spinozian conception of God – in other words one quite dissimilar to the anthropomorphic connotations usually invoked by the word.
Others have drawn similar conclusions and made similar interpretations. Karl Ameriks summarizes Kant’s reasoning here thusly:
“All other discussion of immortality in the critical period are dominated by the moral argument that Kant sets out in the second critique. The argument is that morality obligates us to seek holiness (perfect virtue), which therefore must be possible, and can only be so if God grants us an endless afterlife in which we can continually progress… As a finite creature man in incapable of ever achieving holiness, but on — and only in — an endless time could we supposedly approximate to it (in the eyes of God) as fully as could be expected… Kant is saying not that real holiness is ever a human objective, but rather that complete striving for it can be, and this could constitute for man a state of ‘perfect virtue’…” 
The emphasis on indefinity is also present in the secondary literature; Ameriks remarks that Kant ”…makes clear that the ‘continual progress’ he speaks of can ultimately have a ‘non-temporal’ nature in that it is neither momentary nor of definitive duration nor actually endless”. Only through never quite reaching our perfected state can we retain the perfection of lawless flawedness.
Paul Guyer corroborates my claim that the determining factor is not the claim that mind is an extramaterial entity or substance, but because if morality requires infinite good and if we are finite beings then we must be finite beings along an infinite stretch of time in order to satisfy the categorical requirements of possessing such an infinity. He writes that ”..the possibility of the perfection of our virtuous disposition requires our actual immortality…”  and that ”…God and immortality are conditions specifically of the possibility of the ultimate object of virtue, the highest good — immortality is the condition for the perfection of virtue and God that for the realization of happiness…
In summary, it doesn’t matter that Kant’s platform was metaphysical rather than technological, because the salient point and determining factors were not the specific operation or underlying principles (or the “means”) used to achieve immortality, but rather the very ends itself. Being able to both live and progress in(de)finitely was the loophole that provides, for Kant, both our freedom and our morality. Kant said we can’t die if we want to be moral, that we can’t die if we want to gain virtue and that we can’t die if we want to remain free.
 Hughes, J. J. (2001). The Future of Death: Cryonics and the Telos of Liberal Individualism. Journal of Evolution & Technology, 6 .
 Kant, I. (1996). In M.J. Gregor Practical Philosophy, Cambridge University Press.
 Kant, I. (1957). In T. M. Greene Kant selections, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
 Ibid,. p. 350.
 Ameriks, K. (2000). Kant’s Theory of Mind: An Analysis of the Paralogisms of Pure Reason: Oxford University Press.
 Ibid., p. 352.
 Ibid., p. 350.
 Ibid,. p. 358.
 Ibid,. p. 359.
 Ameriks, K. (2000). Kant’s Theory of Mind: An Analysis of the Paralogisms of Pure Reason: Oxford University Press.
 Freydberg, B. (2005). Imagination of Kant’s critique of practical reason: Indiana University Press.
 Guyer, P. (2000). Kant on Freedom, Law, and Happiness: Cambridge University Press.
Greetings to the Lifeboat Foundation community and blog readers! I’m Reno J. Tibke, creator of Anthrobotic.com and new advisory board member. This is my inaugural post, and I’m honored to be here and grateful for the opportunity to contribute a somewhat… different voice to technology coverage and commentary. Thanks for reading.
This Here Battle Droid’s Gone Haywire There’s a new semi-indy sci-fi web series up: DR0NE. After one episode, it’s looking pretty clear that the series is most likely going to explore shenanigans that invariably crop up when we start using semi-autonomous drones/robots to do some serious destruction & murdering. Episode 1 is pretty and well made, and stars 237, the android pictured above looking a lot like Abe Sapien’s battle exoskeleton. Active duty drones here in realityland are not yet humanoid, but now that militaries, law enforcement, the USDA, private companies, and even citizens are seriously ramping up drone usage by land, air, and sea, the subject is timely and watching this fiction is totally recommended.
It would be nice to hope for some originality, and while DR0NE is visually and means-of-productionally and distributionally novel, it’s looking like yet another angle on a psychology & set of issues that fiction has thoroughly drilled — like, for centuries.
Higher-Def Old Hat? Okay, so the modern versions go like this: one day an android or otherwise humanlike machine is damaged or reprogrammed or traumatized or touched by Jesus or whatever, and it miraculously “wakes up,” or its neural network remembers a previous life, or what have you. Generally the machine becomes severely bi-polar about its place in the universe; while it often struggles with the guilt of all the murderdeathkilling it did at others’ behest, it simultaneously develops some serious self-preservation instinct and has little compunction about laying waste to its pursuers, i.e., former teammates & commanders who’d done the behesting.
Admittedly, DR0NE’s episode 2 has yet to be released, but it’s not too hard to see where this is going; the trailer shows 237 delivering some vegetablizing kung-fu to it’s human pursuers, and dude, come on — if a human is punched in the head hard enough to throw them across a room and into a wall or is uppercut into a spasticating backflip, they’re probably just going to embolize and die where they land. Clearly 237 already has the stereotypical post-revelatory per-the-plot justifiable body count.
Famous Chilean philosopher Humberto Maturana describes “certainty” in science as subjective emotional opinion and astonishes the physicists’ prominence. French astronomer and “Leonardo” publisher Roger Malina hopes that the LHC safety issue would be discussed in a broader social context and not only in the closer scientific framework of CERN.
The latest renowned “Ars Electronica Festival” in Linz (Austria) was dedicated in part to an uncritical worship of the gigantic particle accelerator LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at the European Nuclear Research Center CERN located at the Franco-Swiss border. CERN in turn promoted an art prize with the idea to “cooperate closely” with the arts. This time the objections were of a philosophical nature – and they had what it takes.
In a thought provoking presentation Maturana addressed the limits of our knowledge and the intersubjective foundations of what we call “objective” and “reality.” His talk was spiked with excellent remarks and witty asides that contributed much to the accessibility of these fundamental philosophical problems: “Be realistic, be objective!” Maturana pointed out, simply means that we want others to adopt our point of view. The great constructivist and founder of the concept of autopoiesis clearly distinguished his approach from a solipsistic position.
Given Ars Electronica’s spotlight on CERN and its experimental sub-nuclear research reactor, Maturana’s explanations were especially important, which to the assembled CERN celebrities may have come in a mixture of an unpleasant surprise and a lack of relation to them.
During the question-and-answer period, Markus Goritschnig asked Maturana whether it wasn’t problematic that CERN is basically controlling itself and discarding a number of existential risks discussed related to the LHC — including hypothetical but mathematically demonstrable risks also raised — and later downplayed — by physicists like Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek, and whether he thought it necessary to integrate in the LHC safety assessment process other sciences aside from physics such as risk search. In response Maturana replied (in the video from about 1:17): “We human beings can always reflect on what we are doing and choose. And choose to do it or not to do it. And so the question is, how are we scientists reflecting upon what we do? Are we taking seriously our responsibility of what we do? […] We are always in the danger of thinking that, ‘Oh, I have the truth’, I mean — in a culture of truth, in a culture of certainty — because truth and certainty are not as we think — I mean certainty is an emotion. ‘I am certain that something is the case’ means: ‘I do not know’. […] We cannot pretend to impose anything on others; we have to create domains of interrogativity.”
Disregarding these reflections, Sergio Bertolucci (CERN) found the peer review system among the physicists’ community a sufficient scholarly control. He refuted all the disputed risks with the “cosmic ray argument,” arguing that much more energetic collisions are naturally taking place in the atmosphere without any adverse effect. This safety argument by CERN on the LHC, however, can also be criticized under different perspectives, for example: Very high energetic collisions could be measured only indirectly — and the collision frequency under the unprecedented artificial and extreme conditions at the LHC is of astronomical magnitudes higher than in the Earth’s atmosphere and anywhere else in the nearer cosmos.
The second presentation of the “Origin” Symposium III was held by Roger Malina, an astrophysicist and the editor of “Leonardo” (MIT Press), a leading academic journal for the arts, sciences and technology.
Malina opened with a disturbing fact: “95% of the universe is of an unknown nature, dark matter and dark energy. We sort of know how it behaves. But we don’t have a clue of what it is. It does not emit light, it does not reflect light. As an astronomer this is a little bit humbling. We have been looking at the sky for millions of years trying to explain what is going on. And after all of that and all those instruments, we understand only 3% of it. A really humbling thought. […] We are the decoration in the universe. […] And so the conclusion that I’d like to draw is that: We are really badly designed to understand the universe.”
The main problem in research is: “curiosity is not neutral.” When astrophysics reaches its limits, cooperation between arts and science may indeed be fruitful for various reasons and could perhaps lead to better science in the end. In a later communication Roger Malina confirmed that the same can be demonstrated for the relation between natural sciences and humanities or social sciences.
However, the astronomer emphasized that an “art-science collaboration can lead to better science in some cases. It also leads to different science, because by embedding science in the larger society, I think the answer was wrong this morning about scientists peer-reviewing themselves. I think society needs to peer-review itself and to do that you need to embed science differently in society at large, and that means cultural embedding and appropriation. Helga Nowotny at the European Research Council calls this ‘socially robust science’. The fact that CERN did not lead to a black hole that ended the world was not due to peer-review by scientists. It was not due to that process.”
One of Malina’s main arguments focused on differences in “the ethics of curiosity”. The best ethics in (natural) science include notions like: intellectual honesty, integrity, organized scepticism, dis-interestedness, impersonality, universality. “Those are the believe systems of most scientists. And there is a fundamental flaw to that. And Humberto this morning really expanded on some of that. The problem is: Curiosity is embodied. You cannot make it into a neutral ideal of scientific curiosity. And here I got a quote of Humberto’s colleague Varela: “All knowledge is conditioned by the structure of the knower.”
In conclusion, a better co-operation of various sciences and skills is urgently necessary, because: “Artists asks questions that scientists would not normally ask. Finally, why we want more art-science interaction is because we don’t have a choice. There are certain problems in our society today that are so tough we need to change our culture to resolve them. Climate change: we’ve got to couple the science and technology to the way we live. That’s a cultural problem, and we need artists working on that with the scientists every day of the next decade, the next century, if we survive it.
Then Roger Malina directly turned to the LHC safety discussion and articulated an open contradiction to the safety assurance pointed out before: He would generally hope for a much more open process concerning the LHC safety debate, rather than discussing this only in a narrow field of particle physics, concrete: “There are certain problems where we cannot cloister the scientific activity in the scientific world, and I think we really need to break the model. I wish CERN, when they had been discussing the risks, had done that in an open societal context, and not just within the CERN context.”
Presently CERN is holding its annual meeting in Chamonix to fix LHC’s 2012 schedules in order to increase luminosity by a factor of four for maybe finally finding the Higgs Boson – against a 100-Dollar bet of Stephen Hawking who is convinced of Micro Black Holes being observed instead, immediately decaying by hypothetical “Hawking Radiation” — with God Particle’s blessing. Then it would be himself gaining the Nobel Prize Hawking pointed out. Quite ironically, at Ars Electronica official T-Shirts were sold with the “typical signature” of a micro black hole decaying at the LHC – by a totally hypothetical process involving a bunch of unproven assumptions.
In 2013 CERN plans to adapt the LHC due to construction failures for up to CHF 1 Billion to run the “Big Bang Machine” at double the present energies. A neutral and multi-disciplinary risk assessment is still lacking, while a couple of scientists insist that their theories pointing at even global risks have not been invalidated. CERN’s last safety assurance comparing natural cosmic rays hitting the Earth with the LHC experiment is only valid under rather narrow viewpoints. The relatively young analyses of high energetic cosmic rays are based on indirect measurements and calculations. Sort, velocity, mass and origin of these particles are unknown. But, taking the relations for granted and calculating with the “assuring” figures given by CERN PR, within ten years of operation, the LHC under extreme and unprecedented artificial circumstances would produce as many high energetic particle collisions as occur in about 100.000 years in the entire atmosphere of the Earth. Just to illustrate the energetic potential of the gigantic facility: One LHC-beam, thinner than a hair, consisting of billions of protons, has got the power of an aircraft carrier moving at 12 knots.
This article in the Physics arXiv Blog (MIT’s Technology Review) reads: “Black Holes, Safety, and the LHC Upgrade — If the LHC is to be upgraded, safety should be a central part of the plans.”, closing with the claim: “What’s needed, of course, is for the safety of the LHC to be investigated by an independent team of scientists with a strong background in risk analysis but with no professional or financial links to CERN.” http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/27319/
Australian ethicist and risk researcher Mark Leggett concluded in a paper that CERN’s LSAG safety report on the LHC meets less than a fifth of the criteria of a modern risk assessment. There but for the grace of a goddamn particle? Probably not. Before pushing the LHC to its limits, CERN must be challenged by a really neutral, external and multi-disciplinary risk assessment.
Video recordings of the “Origin III” symposium at Ars Electronica: Presentation Humberto Maturana: