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This essay was originally published at Transhumanity.

They don’t call it fatal for nothing. Infatuation with the fat of fate, duty to destiny, and belief in any sort of preordainity whatsoever – omnipotent deities notwithstanding – constitutes an increase in Existential Risk, albeit indirectly. If we think that events have been predetermined, it follows that we would think that our actions make no difference in the long run and that we have no control over the shape of those futures still fetal. This scales to the perceived ineffectiveness of combating or seeking to mitigate existential risk for those who have believe so fatalistically. Thus to combat belief in fate, and resultant disillusionment in our ability to wreak roiling revisement upon the whorl of the world, is to combat existential risk as well.

It also works to undermine the perceived effectiveness of humanity’s ability to mitigate existential risk along another avenue. Belief in fate usually correlates with the notion that the nature of events is ordered with a reason on purpose in mind, as opposed to being haphazard and lacking a specific projected end. Thus believers-in-fate are not only more likely to doubt the credibility of claims that existential risk could even occur (reasoning that if events have purpose, utility and conform to a mindfully-created order then they would be good things more often than bad things) but also to feel that if they were to occur it would be for a greater underlying reason or purpose.

Thus, belief in fate indirectly increases existential risk both a. by undermining the perceived effectiveness of attempts to mitigate existential risk, deriving from the perceived ineffectiveness of humanity’s ability to shape the course and nature of events and effect change in the world in general, and b. by undermining the perceived likelihood of any existential risks culminating in humanity’s extinction, stemming from connotations of order and purpose associated with fate.

fate5Belief in fate is not only self-curtailing, but also dehumanizing insofar as it stops us from changing, affecting and actualizing the world and causes us think that we can have no impact on the course of events or control over circumstantial circumstances. This anecdotal point is rather ironic considering that Anti-Transhumanists often launch the charge that trying to take fate into our own hands is itself dehumanizing. They’re heading in an ass-forward direction.

While belief in predetermination-of-events is often associated with religion, most often with those who hold their deity to be omnipotent (as in the Abrahamic religious tradition), it can also be easily engendered by the association of scientific materialism (or metaphysical naturalism) with determinism and its connotations of alienation and seeming dehumanization. Memetic connotations of preordainity or predetermination, whether stemming from either religion or scientific-materialism, serve to undermine our perceived autonomy and our perceived ability to enact changes in the world. We must let neither curtail our perceived potential to change the world, both because the thrust towards self-determination and changing the world for the better is the heart of humanity and because perceived ineffectiveness at facilitating change in the world correlates with an indirect increase in existential risk by promoting the perceived ineffectiveness of humanity to shape events so as to mitigate such risks.

Having presented the reasoning behind the claim that belief in fate constitutes an indirect increase in existential risk, the rest of this essay will be concerned with a.) the extent with which ideas can be considered as real as physical entities, processes or “states-of-affairs”, namely for their ability to affect change and determine the nature and circumstance of such physical entities and processes, b.) a few broader charges against fate in general, and c.) possible ideohistorical sources of contemporary belief in fate.

The Ousting of Ousia:

Giddy Fortune’s furious fickle wheel,
That goddess blind, That stands upon
the rolling restless stone.
Henry V, 3.3.27), Pistol to Fluellen — Shakespeare

Ethereal beliefs can have material consequences. We intuitively feel that ideas can have less of an impact on the world for their seeming incorporeality. This may be a but specter of Aristotle’s decision to ground essence in Ousia, or Substance, and the resultant emphasis throughout the following philo-socio-historical development of the Western World on staticity and unchanging materiality as the platform for Truth and Being (i.e. essence) that it arguably promoted. Indeed, the Scholastic Tradition in medieval Europe tried to reconcile their theological system with Aristotle’s philosophic tradition more than any other. But while Aristotle’s emphasis on grounding being in ousia is predominant, Aristotle also has his Telos, working though the distance of time to impart shape and meaning upon the action of the present. Indeed, we do things for a purpose; the concerted actions contributing to my writing these words are not determined in stepwise fashion and inherent in the parts, but with the end goal of communicating and idea to people shaping and to a large extent determining the parts and present actions that proceed along the way to that projected ideal. Aristotle was presumably no stranger to the limitations of parts, as his metaphysical system can be seen in large part as a reaction against Plato’s.

One will do well to recall as well that Plato grounded the eternality of being not in sod but in sky. Plato’s Ideal Forms were eternal because they were to be found nowhere in physicality, in contrast to Aristotle’s Ousia, which were eternal and lasting for being material rather than ethereal. Plato’s lofty realm of Ideas were realer than reality for being locatable nowhere therein, save as mere approximation. And while Plato’s conceptual gestalt did indeed gestate throughout certain periods of history, including Neo-Platonism, Idealism, Transcendentalism and Process Philosophy, one can argue that the notion of the reality of ideas failed to impact popular attitudes of fate, destiny and predeterminism to the extent with which Aristotle’s notion of Ousia did.

The Ideal Real or the Real Ideal?

My stars shine darkly over me:
the malignancy of my fate might
perhaps distemper yours.
(Twelfth Night, 2.1.3), Sebastian to Antonio) — Shakespeare

I’ve thus far argued that Artistotle’s notion of Ousia as the grounds for Truth and Essence has promoted the infatuation with fate that seems pretty predominant throughout history, and that Plato’s Ideal Forms have deterred such physics-fat infatuation by emphasizing the reality of ideas, and thereby vicariously promoting the notion that ideas can have as large an impact on reality as substance and real action does.

If we act as though God is watching, are not all the emergent effects (on us) of his existence, which would have been caused were he actually there watching in some sense, instantiated nonetheless or with any less vehemence than if he were not watching? If a tribe refrains from entering a local area for fear of legends about a monster situated there, are they not as controlled and affected by that belief as they would be if such a monster actually existed? The idea of the monster is as real as otherwise because the tribesmen avoid it, just as though it were real. These examples serve to illustrate the point that ideas can be as real as real states-of-affairs because by believing in their reality we can consequently instantiate all the emergent effects that would have been present were such an idea a real “state-of-affairs”.

This notion has the potential to combat the sedentizing effects that belief in fate and destiny can engender because it allows us to see not only our ideas, with which we can affect circumstances and effect changes in the world, can have material impact on the world, and to see that objectives projected into the future can have a decided impact on circumstances in the present insofar as we shape the circumstances of the present in response to that anticipated, projected objective. We do things for projected purposes which shall not exist until the actions carried out under the egis of satisfying that purpose are, indeed, carried out. It doesn’t exist until we make it exist, and we must believe that it shall exist in order to facilitate the process of its creation. This reifies the various possible futures still waiting to be actualized, and legitimizes the reality of such possible futures. Thus Plato’s ideo-embryo of Ideal Forms constitutes a liberating potential not only for making ideas (through which we shape the world) real, but also by reifying Telos and the anticipated ends and fetal futures through which we can enact the translation of such ideas into physical embodiment.

Yet Plato is not completely free of the blame for solidifying lame fate in the eyes of the world. The very eternality of his Forms at once serves to reify fate and promote public acceptance of it as well! Plato’s forms are timeless, changeless. What is time but a loosening of the strings on fortune’s sling? What is eternality but destiny determined and the fine print writ large? While Plato’s firm forms vilify fate they also valorize it by sharing with it memetic connotations of timelessness and changelessness.

So damn you Plato for spaciating time rather than temporalizing space, for making the ideal a form rather than a from and eternal rather than eturnatal, for urning where you should have turned and for grounding the ideal rather that aerating it as you should have. And damn you Aristotle — phlegmy future-forward blowback and simmerred reaction against Ur philosophic father — but a batch of Play-Doh bygone hardy and fissury — for totalizing in ontic aplomb the base base and bawdy body and for siding with ousia rather than insiding within nousia. Your petty chasm has infected the vector of our memetic trajectory with such damnbivalent gravity as to arrest our escapee velocity and hold us fast against the slow down and still to wall the wellness of our will. Your preplundurance with stuff has made your ideational kin seek suchness and understanding in what overlies the series of surfaces all the way down, without any gno of flow or recourse to the coursing middle that shifts its center and lifts its tangentail besides. Aristotle the Ptolemaic totalizer of cosmography by curation rather than creation, each moment a museum to be ripped asunder its supple matrix maternal and molested with scientific rigor-mortis in quiet dustless rooms. Being is but the jail-louse diminutive bastard-kid-brother of Becoming, which Heraclitus in his dark light saw and which Parmenides despite getting more limelight did not. But again, even Aristotle had his retro-causal final causes — the Telos televisualized…

Was Aristotle aristotally wrong, or did he just miss a right turn down the li(n)e?

Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown; Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own. (Hamlet, 3.2.208), Player King — Shakespeare

Then again (…again?), Aristotle may not be as culpable as he was capable. While I argue that his notion of Ousia had predominantly reifying effects on people’s notions of the existence of fate and the irreality of ideas, thereby undermining our perceived ability to determine the conditions of our selves and the world in particular, this may have been a consequence of promiscuous misinterpretation rather than underlying motivation. Aristotle is often allied with Parmenides for deifying Being over the Becoming of Heraclitus, but Aristotle’s notion of Ousia, when considered in contrast to the Plato’s Forms (which it can be seen as a reaction against) may actually bear more similarities with Becoming-as-Being al a Heraclitus than with Being-as-Sole-Being al a Parmenides.

Plato’s Forms may have for Aristotle epitomized resolute eternality and unyielding predetermination. Indeed, essence connotes immateriality, idealism, and possibility; an airyness very easy to conflate with becoming or idealism by various semiotic channels, but for Plato essence – which he locates in his Ideal Forms — was almost antithetical to such attributes: a type of being, eternal and changeless. Aristiotle’s Being or Ousia, however, grounds Truth and Essence in the parted parts, the particulate particular and the singular segment. His Ousia may have been an attempt, in reaction against the unmoving Forms of Plato, to ground truth in the diverse, the particular and the idiosyncratic rather than the airy eternal and skybound ground unflinching. Aristotle’s Ousia then may be more correlative to Becoming-as-Being in the sense in which Heraclitus meant it, and in accordance with the notion’s potential to reify the existence, value/dignity and effectiveness of our autonomy, individuality, and difference. Indeed, the reification of these ideals, threatened by any notions framing essence as changeless, may have been Aristotle’s main gain and underlying motivation.

This brief foray into the semiotic jungles of transhistorical memetics and the ways in which notions formulated in Ancient Greece may have fermented throughout history to help form and shape our attitudes toward fate, destiny, predeterminism, and thereby our ability to affect changes in the world — and to cast away the slings and clutched crutches of fate — serves to illustrate, in a self-reflective fit of meta, how notions wholly immaterial can still matter insofar as they shape our contemporary beliefs, desires, attitudes and ideals. The two notions briefly considered here, of Plato’s Ideal Forms and Aristotle’s Ousia, have been considered in regard to the extent with which they shape contemporary belief in fate and predestination.

Conclusion: Inconclusivity is Key

My fate cries out, And makes each petty artery in this body As hardy as the Nemean lion’s nerve. (Hamlet, 1.4.91), Hamlet — Shakespeare

Indeed, infatuation with fate constitutes an increase in Existential risk by undermining the extent with which we perceive our usefulness and effectiveness in combatting Existential Risks in general, as well as by undermining the perceived likelihood of such existential risks causing serious harm and death or culminating in the extinction of humanity.

Belief in destiny is also dehumanizing and alienating. The only determinism fit for Man is self-determination, the self not in-and-of itself but within-and-for itself. The deterministic connotations inextricably associated with fate, destiny and preordainity are dehumanizing and epitomize the very antithesis of what constitutes humanity as such.

Combatting the dehumanizing and disenfranchising connotations of determinism is also imperative to increasing the public appeal of Transhumanism. It is easy to associate such connotations with technology, through an association of technology with determinism (in regards to both function and aesthetic), and since technology is very much emphasized in Transhumanism, one could even say is central to Transhumanism, this should impel us to re-legitimatize and to explicate the enchanting, mysterious, and wonder-full aspects of technology inherent in Transhumanist thinking and discourse. Technology is our platform for increased self-determination, self-realization and self-liberation. We can do the yet-to-be-possible with technology, and so technology should rightly be associated with the yet-to-be-determined, with the determinedly indeterminatal, the mysterious, the enchanting, and the awe-some. While its use as a tool of disenfranchisement and control is not impossible or nonexistent, its liberating, empowering and enchantment-instilling potentialities shouldn’t be overly undermined, or worse wholly ignored, as a result.

Whether in the form of determinism grounded in scientific materialism, or in the lofty letharge of an omnipotent god with a dogged determination to fix destiny in unflinching resolve, belief in fate increases existential risk by decreasing our perceived ability to effect affects in the world and make changes to the shape of our circumstance, as well as decreasing the perceived likelihood of a source of existential risk culminating in humanity’s extinction.

If all is fixedly viced then where lie room to revise?

Dead Immortalist Sequence - #1: Immanuel Kant (1724−1804)

kant1 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 [1].

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?” [2], 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 [3] under Part III: The Summum Bonnum, God and Immortality [4], 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.” [5]. 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.” [5]

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) [6], he describes the Summum Bonnum as “the supreme end of a will morally determined”. In an earlier section, The Concept of the Summum Bonnum [7], 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).

Kant continues:

” 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.” [8]

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.

Kant decants:

“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.” [9]

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.

Kant’s real embalmed skull and deathbed head-mould

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’…” [10]

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…” [11] 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…[12]

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.



[1] Hughes, J. J. (2001). The Future of Death: Cryonics and the Telos of Liberal Individualism. Journal of Evolution & Technology, 6 .

[2] Kant, I. (1996). In M.J. Gregor Practical Philosophy, Cambridge University Press.

[3] Kant, I. (1957). In T. M. Greene Kant selections, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

[4] Ibid,. p. 350.

[5] Ameriks, K. (2000). Kant’s Theory of Mind: An Analysis of the Paralogisms of Pure Reason: Oxford University Press.

[6] Ibid., p. 352.

[7] Ibid., p. 350.

[8] Ibid,. p. 358.

[9] Ibid,. p. 359.

[10] Ameriks, K. (2000). Kant’s Theory of Mind: An Analysis of the Paralogisms of Pure Reason: Oxford University Press.

[11] Freydberg, B. (2005). Imagination of Kant’s critique of practical reason: Indiana University Press.

[12] Guyer, P. (2000). Kant on Freedom, Law, and Happiness: Cambridge University Press.


…here’s Tom with the Weather.
That right there is comedian/philosopher Bill Hicks, sadly no longer with us. One imagines he would be pleased and completely unsurprised to learn that serious scientific minds are considering and actually finding support for the theory that our reality could be a kind of simulation. That means, for example, a string of daisy-chained IBM Super-Deep-Blue Gene Quantum Watson computers from 2042 could be running a History of the Universe program, and depending on your solipsistic preferences, either you are or we are the character(s).

It’s been in the news a lot of late, but — no way, right?

Because dude, I’m totally real
Despite being utterly unable to even begin thinking about how to consider what real even means, the everyday average rational person would probably assign this to the sovereign realm of unemployable philosophy majors or under the Whatever, Who Cares? or Oh, That’s Interesting I Gotta Go Now! categories. Okay fine, but on the other side of the intellectual coin, vis-à-vis recent technological advancement, of late it’s actually being seriously considered by serious people using big words they’ve learned at endless college whilst collecting letters after their names and doin’ research and writin’ and gettin’ association memberships and such.

So… why now?

Well, basically, it’s getting hard to ignore.
It’s not a new topic, it’s been hammered by philosophy and religion since like, thought happened. But now it’s getting some actual real science to stir things up. And it’s complicated, occasionally obtuse stuff — theories are spread out across various disciplines, and no one’s really keeping a decent flowchart.

So, what follows is an effort to encapsulate these ideas, and that’s daunting — it’s incredibly difficult to focus on writing when you’re wondering if you really have fingers or eyes. Along with links to some articles with links to some papers, what follows is Anthrobotic’s CliffsNotes on the intersection of physics, computer science, probability, and evidence for/against reality being real (and how that all brings us back to well, God).
You know, light fare.

First — Maybe we know how the universe works: Fantastically simplified, as our understanding deepens, it appears more and more the case that, in a manner of speaking, the universe sort of “computes” itself based on the principles of quantum mechanics. Right now, humanity’s fastest and sexiest supercomputers can simulate only extremely tiny fractions of the natural universe as we understand it (contrasted to the macro-scale inferential Bolshoi Simulation). But of course we all know the brute power of our computational technology is increasing dramatically like every few seconds, and even awesomer, we are learning how to build quantum computers, machines that calculate based on the underlying principles of existence in our universe — this could thrust the game into superdrive. So, given ever-accelerating computing power, and given than we can already simulate tiny fractions of the universe, you logically have to consider the possibility: If the universe works in a way we can exactly simulate, and we give it a shot, then relatively speaking what we make ceases to be a simulation, i.e., we’ve effectively created a new reality, a new universe (ummm… God?). So, the question is how do we know that we haven’t already done that? Or, otherwise stated: what if our eventual ability to create perfect reality simulations with computers is itself a simulation being created by a computer? Well, we can’t answer this — we can’t know. Unless…
[New Scientist’s Special Reality Issue]
[D-Wave’s Quantum Computer]
[Possible Large-scale Quantum Computing]

Second — Maybe we see it working: The universe seems to be metaphorically “pixelated.” This means that even though it’s a 50 billion trillion gajillion megapixel JPEG, if we juice the zooming-in and drill down farther and farther and farther, we’ll eventually see a bunch of discreet chunks of matter, or quantums, as the kids call them — these are the so-called pixels of the universe. Additionally, a team of lab coats at the University of Bonn think they might have a workable theory describing the underlying lattice, or existential re-bar in the foundation of observable reality (upon which the “pixels” would be arranged). All this implies, in a way, that the universe is both designed and finite (uh-oh, getting closer to the God issue). Even at ferociously complex levels, something finite can be measured and calculated and can, with sufficiently hardcore computers, be simulated very, very well. This guy Rich Terrile, a pretty serious NASA scientist, sites the pixelation thingy and poses a video game analogy: think of any first-person shooter — you cannot immerse your perspective into the entirety of the game, you can only interact with what is in your bubble of perception, and everywhere you go there is an underlying structure to the environment. Kinda sounds like, you know, life — right? So, what if the human brain is really just the greatest virtual reality engine ever conceived, and your character, your life, is merely a program wandering around a massively open game map, playing… well, you?
[Lattice Theory from the U of Bonn]
[NASA guy Rich Terrile at Vice]
[Kurzweil AI’s Technical Take on Terrile]

Thirdly — Turns out there’s a reasonable likelihood: While the above discussions on the physical properties of matter and our ability to one day copy & paste the universe are intriguing, it also turns out there’s a much simpler and straightforward issue to consider: there’s this annoyingly simplistic yet valid thought exercise posited by Swedish philosopher/economist/futurist Nick Bostrum, a dude way smarter that most humans. Basically he says we’ve got three options: 1. Civilizations destroy themselves before reaching a level of technological prowess necessary to simulate the universe; 2. Advanced civilizations couldn’t give two shits about simulating our primitive minds; or 3. Reality is a simulation. Sure, a decent probability, but sounds way oversimplified, right?
Well go read it. Doing so might ruin your day, JSYK.
[Summary of Bostrum’s Simulation Hypothesis]

Lastly — Data against is lacking: Any idea how much evidence or objective justification we have for the standard, accepted-without-question notion that reality is like, you know… real, or whatever? None. Zero. Of course the absence of evidence proves nothing, but given that we do have decent theories on how/why simulation theory is feasible, it follows that blithely accepting that reality is not a simulation is an intrinsically more radical position. Why would a thinking being think that? Just because they know it’s true? Believing 100% without question that you are a verifiably physical, corporeal, technology-wielding carbon-based organic primate is a massive leap of completely unjustified faith.
Oh, Jesus. So to speak.

If we really consider simulation theory, we must of course ask: who built the first one? And was it even an original? Is it really just turtles all the way down, Professor Hawking?

Okay, okay — that means it’s God time now
Now let’s see, what’s that other thing in human life that, based on a wild leap of faith, gets an equally monumental evidentiary pass? Well, proving or disproving the existence of god is effectively the same quandary posed by simulation theory, but with one caveat: we actually do have some decent scientific observations and theories and probabilities supporting simulation theory. That whole God phenomenon is pretty much hearsay, anecdotal at best. However, very interestingly, rather than negating it, simulation theory actually represents a kind of back-door validation of creationism. Here’s the simple logic:

If humans can simulate a universe, humans are it’s creator.
Accept the fact that linear time is a construct.
The process repeats infinitely.
We’ll build the next one.
The loop is closed.

God is us.

Heretical speculation on iteration
Even wonder why older polytheistic religions involved the gods just kinda setting guidelines for behavior, and they didn’t necessarily demand the love and complete & total devotion of humans? Maybe those universes were 1st-gen or beta products. You know, like it used to take a team of geeks to run the building-sized ENIAC, the first universe simulations required a whole host of creators who could make some general rules but just couldn’t manage every single little detail.

Now, the newer religions tend to be monotheistic, and god wants you to love him and only him and no one else and dedicate your life to him. But just make sure to follow his rules, and take comfort that your’re right and everyone else is completely hosed and going to hell. The modern versions of god, both omnipotent and omniscient, seem more like super-lonely cosmically powerful cat ladies who will delete your ass if you don’t behave yourself and love them in just the right way. So, the newer universes are probably run as a background app on the iPhone 26, and managed by… individuals. Perhaps individuals of questionable character.

The home game:
Latest title for the 2042 XBOX-Watson³ Quantum PlayStation Cube:*
Crappy 1993 graphic design simulation: 100% Effective!

*Manufacturer assumes no responsibility for inherently emergent anomalies, useless
inventions by game characters, or evolutionary cul de sacs including but not limited to:
The duck-billed platypus, hippies, meat in a can, reality TV, the TSA,
mayonaise, Sony VAIO products, natto, fundamentalist religious idiots,
people who don’t like homos, singers under 21, hangovers, coffee made
from cat shit, passionfruit iced tea, and the pacific garbage patch.

And hey, if true, it’s not exactly bad news
All these ideas are merely hypotheses, and for most humans the practical or theoretical proof or disproof would probably result in the same indifferent shrug. For those of us who like to rub a few brain cells together from time to time, attempting to both to understand the fundamental nature of our reality/simulation, and guess at whether or not we too might someday be capable of simulating ourselves, well — these are some goddamn profound ideas.

So, no need for hand wringing — let’s get on with our character arc and/or real lives. While simulation theory definitely causes reflexive revulsion, “just a simulation” isn’t necessarily pejorative. Sure, if we take a look at the current state of our own computer simulations and A.I. constructs, it is rather insulting. So if we truly are living in a simulation, you gotta give it up to the creator(s), because it’s a goddamn amazing piece of technological achievement.

Addendum: if this still isn’t sinking in, the brilliant
Dinosaur Comics might do a better job explaining:

(This post originally published I think like two days
ago at technosnark hub

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.

(Article published in “oekonews”: )

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.”

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:

Presentation Roger Malina:

“Origin” Symposia at Ars Electronica:

Communication on LHC Safety directed to CERN
Feb 10 2012
For a neutral and multidisciplinary risk assessment to be done before any LHC upgrade

More info, links and transcripts of lectures at “LHC-Critique — Network for Safety at experimental sub-nuclear Reactors”:

Call for Essays:

The Singularity Hypothesis
A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment

Edited volume, to appear in The Frontiers Collection, Springer

Does an intelligence explosion pose a genuine existential risk, or did Alan Turing, Steven Hawking, and Alvin Toffler delude themselves with visions ‘straight from Cloud Cuckooland’? Should the notions of superintelligent machines, brain emulations and transhumans be ridiculed, or is it that skeptics are the ones who suffer from short sightedness and ‘carbon chauvinism’? These questions have remained open because much of what we hear about the singularity originates from popular depictions, fiction, artistic impressions, and apocalyptic propaganda.

Seeking to promote this debate, this edited, peer-reviewed volume shall be concerned with scientific and philosophical analysis of the conjectures related to a technological singularity. We solicit scholarly essays offering a scientific and philosophical analysis of this hypothesis, assess its empirical content, examine relevant evidence, or explore its implications. Commentary offering a critical assessment of selected essays may also be solicited.

Important dates:

  • Extended abstracts (500–1,000 words): 15 January 2011
  • Full essays: (around 7,000 words): 30 September 2011
  • Notifications: 30 February 2012 (tentative)
  • Proofs: 30 April 2012 (tentative)

We aim to get this volume published by the end of 2012.

Purpose of this volume

Central questions

Extended abstracts are ideally short (3 pages, 500 to 1000 words), focused (!), relating directly to specific central questions and indicating how they will be treated in the full essay.

Full essays are expected to be short (15 pages, around 7000 words) and focused, relating directly to specific central questions. Essays longer than 15 pages long will be proportionally more difficult to fit into the volume. Essays that are three times this size or more are unlikely to fit. Essays should address the scientifically-literate non-specialist and written in a language that is divorced from speculative and irrational line of argumentation. In addition, some authors may be asked to make their submission available for commentary (see below).

(More details)

Thank you for reading this call. Please forward it to individuals who may wish to contribute.

Amnon Eden, School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex
Johnny Søraker, Department of Philosophy, University of Twente
Jim Moor, Department of Philosophy, Dartmouth College
Eric Steinhart, Department of Philosophy, William Paterson University