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Posted: February 22, 2017 at 4:42 am
From The Objective Standard, Vol. 12, No. 1.
Images: Ayn Rand, Courtesy of Ayn Rand Archives / Friedrich Nietzsche, Wikimedia
Editors note: This article is an edited version by Michael Berliner of Dr. Ridpaths article originally written for a 2005 project that was canceled. Because the article was written prior to the publication of A Companion to Ayn Rand, Allan Gotthelf and Greg Salmieri, eds. (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016), it makes no reference to that books chapter on Nietzsche by Lester Hunt.
I disagree with [Nietzsche] emphatically on all fundamentals.Ayn Rand (1962)1
I do not want to be confused with Nietzsche in any respect.Ayn Rand (1964)2
Why was Ayn Rand determined to distance herself from Nietzsche? Because in her time, as today, various writers portrayed her as a Nietzschean, claiming that she embraced his ideas and modeled her characters accordinglywhich she did not.
The notion of Rand as a Nietzschean was promulgated most viciously in Whittaker Chamberss 1957 review of Atlas Shrugged, published in National Review. Although he acknowledged Rands debt to Aristotle, Chambers wrote that she is indebted, and much more heavily, to Nietzsche and that her operatic businessmen are, in fact, Nietzschean supermen.3 Since then, similar claims have been made in countless articles and books, including Goddess of the Market, in which Jennifer Burns declared that Rands entire career might be considered a Nietzschean phase.4
Was Rand influenced by Nietzsche? To some extent, yes. In the 1930s, she called him her favorite philosopher and referred to Thus Spake Zarathustra as her bible. As late as 1942, Nietzsche quotes adorned the first pages of each section of her manuscript of The Fountainhead. But from her first encounter with his ideas, Rand knew that her ideas were fundamentally different from his.
Rand first read Nietzsche in 1920, at the age of fifteen, when a cousin told her that Nietzsche had beaten her to her ideas. Naturally, Rand recalled in a 1961 interview, I was very curious to read him. And I started with Zarathustra, and my feelings were quite mixed. I very quickly saw that he hadnt beat me to [my ideas], and that it wasnt exactly my ideas; that it was not what I wanted to say, but I certainly was enthusiastic about the individualist part of it. I had not expected that there existed anybody who would go that far in praising the individual.5
However attracted to Nietzsches seeming praise of the individual, Rand had her doubts even then about his philosophy. As she learned more about philosophy and about Nietzsches ideas, she became increasingly disillusioned. I think I read all his works; I did not read the smaller letters or epigrams, but everything that was translated in Russian. And thats when the disappointment started, more and more.6 The final break came in late 1942, when she removed her favorite Nietzsche quote (The noble soul has reverence for itself)7 from the title page of The Fountainhead. By this time, she had concluded that political and ethical ideasincluding individualismare not fundamental but rest on ideas in metaphysics and epistemology. And this is where the differences between her philosophy and that of Nietzsche most fundamentally lie.
The roots of both Nietzsches and Rands philosophies can be traced to their youths.
Nietzsche (18441900) was raised in a strict Pietist household, and he fixated on the cosmos as the stage on which God and Satan battled for mens souls. Beginning in his youth, Nietzsche read widely in Greek and Nordic myth, occult literature, and heroic sagas, all of which he interpreted as the form taken by a cosmic war acting within the minds of men. He sought evidence for this cosmic storm in the power of visions and drives within himself, and, upon entering university to study theology, he pledged his life to first knowing and then serving this cosmic storm. He pursued this pledge in all of his writings, and, by the end of his working life, he believed that his insights into this storm were of cosmic significance.
By contrast, Rand (19051982) grew up in a predominantly secular household, was exposed to a world of productiveness, prosperity, stable order, and romantic arta world in which, through the exercise of reason, one could discover facts, grasp laws of nature, and thereby work for success and individual happiness. By an early age, Rand had identified going by reason as her leitmotif, had rejected faith and God, and had decided on a career in writing. In university she studied history and philosophy, and, upon graduation, left communist Russia for America in order to be free of tyrannical rule.
Compared at the beginnings of their respective professional lives, Nietzsches and Rands philosophies stand in profound opposition over two basic issues. Whereas Nietzsche held that the subject matter of philosophy is a cosmic storm of warring forces; Rand held that philosophy studies the fundamental nature of existence, of man, and of mans relationship to existence.8 Whereas Nietzsche held that the proper method for studying philosophy is to look inward, at activities within ones self as a guide to the basic forces of the universe; Rand held that a proper method is to look outward, at objects in the world, and to build, through reason, a conceptual understanding of man and his relationship to existence. Nietzsche referred to his system of views as his ontological myth; Rand held that philosophy is the science of fundamentals.
In 1958, Rand wrote in her philosophical notebook that, in the 19th and 20th centuries, philosophy had admitted into its domain a series of fantastic irrationalities, which, being cosmology, were not part of the rational science of philosophy. As she emphasized the point, Cosmology has to be thrown out of philosophy (italics hers).9
This fundamental difference between Rands and Nietzsches philosophies was in place by their respective university years and would expand with time. This will become increasingly evident as we examine and compare their philosophies.
As a university student, Nietzsche had given up his Pietist vision of the cosmos. He still believed that some kind of forces raged throughout the cosmos, but he no longer believed those forces to be God and Satan, nor that religious faith was the means to accessing whatever forces exist.
Guided by Greek myth and three philosophersHeraclitus, Schopenhauer, and HegelNietzsche developed an early version of his cosmological myth. The most profound influence on Nietzsches life was the myth of Dionysus, who reigned in a hidden realm of formless turmoil and traveled to the human realm in order to show men the boiling cauldron out of which they had temporarily arisen and back into which they would be absorbed.
From a very early paper, The Dionysiac World View (1870), to the last passage of a grand posthumous collection of Nietzsches most significant passages, the Dionysian model of the cosmos remained central to Nietzsches worldview. As he put it in The Will to Power:
And do you know what the world is to me? Shall I show it to you in my mirror? This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end; a firm, iron magnitude of force that does not grow bigger or smaller, that does not expend itself but only transforms itself; . . . a sea of forces flowing and rushing together, eternally changing; . . . a becoming that knows no satiety, no disgust, no weariness: this, my Dionysian world of the eternally self-creating, eternally self-destroying, this mystery world.10
Alongside the Dionysian myth, Nietzsche revered Heraclitus, whom he characterized as having the highest power of intuitive conception11 and from whom he took the view that the universe is a random process, a flux, a becoming, out of which specific things emerge, temporarily, and then are reabsorbed. This underlying flux works through the increase and release of tensionthat is, through conflict, struggle, the interaction of positive and negative forces. All things are unifications of opposite states, Heraclitus said. All things happen according to strife and necessity;12 War is father of all and king of all;13 and the world is The eternal and exclusive Becoming, the total instability of all reality, which continually works and never is, as Heraclitus teaches.14
The young Nietzsche was convinced that the universe consisted of two contradictory forces, that these forces are more fundamental than the entities that they create and then reabsorb, and that process, activity, and changenot the things that act and changeare the cosmic fundamentals. There is no being behind the doing, he wrote; the doer is merely a fiction added to the deed; the deed is everything.15 What is basic is not that which acts, but activity itself.
Nietzsche found further support for this view of the cosmos in Hegels belief that the existing cosmos (Hegels Nature) was a realm of interacting and contradictory manifestations of one ultimate force. This dialectical explanation for all change would underlie all of Nietzsches further writings. On this view, reality consists of conflicting, contradictory forces. And entities, including men, are the arenas in which these forces clash. This Hegelian view, Nietzsche held, is the basis of an explanation for all things, all change, all evolutionary advances. (Hegels argument that one cosmic goal was being sought through change in the universe would also come to underlie Nietzsches final cosmic view.)
From Schopenhauer came a view of the cosmos that would prompt Nietzsche to write his first major work, The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music (the work that Ayn Rand said really finished Nietzsche for her). Unlike Hegels cosmos, Schopenhauers cosmic force was a Dionysian Will bent on destruction, although Nietzsche gave it a more positive connotation. With The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsches early metaphysics, that of two fundamentally opposing cosmic forces interacting, was complete.
In 1881, however, Nietzsche experienced a lightning bolt of inspiration about the ultimate nature of the cosmos. It was given to him that the cosmos was not composed of two opposing forces in dialectical struggle, but rather was one force in two opposing forms. And this force was not Schopenhauers Will-to-Destruction or Hegels Will (to cosmic self-discovery), but rather a cosmic Will to Power, a Will on a relentless quest for ever-increasing cosmic power.
In the next eight years, Nietzsche would interpret everything of interest to him as surface manifestations of this one basic force. The cosmos as Will to Power was Nietzsches ultimate cosmological myth. According to this myth, everything and every event ultimately is reducible to units of will, which he called quanta. These quanta, as he described them, are not things but processes, active centers of force or energy. And despite Nietzsches use of the term Will, he does not have in mind any aspect of consciousness, but rather some mystical force that underlies all consciousness and matter.
What are these quanta doing? Seeking power. The only true existent, wrote Nietzsche, is the willing to become stronger, from each center of force outward. This is the most elementary fact, which results in a becoming, an acting.16
In Nietzsches world, there are no things, no individual entitiesthose are all mental constructions. True reality is activity, power seeking, conflict. Reality, at root, is made up of little imperialistic centers of will, all striving to gain power at the expense of others. Reality, including all life, is reducible to quanta seeking to dominate neighboring quanta and not to be dominated by them. This is Nietzsches version of the war that Heraclitus said was the Father of all and the King of all. In this process, as quanta randomly interact, two strains of quanta-combinations arise. Those encompassing greater strength and capacity for coordination are Nietzsches virile or master strain of the Will to Power, whereas the weaker and less capable are the decadent or slave strain.
Because life is a biologically evolved organization of quanta, it reflects the process of power seeking in which the quanta, whether virile or decadent, are engaged. Thus, Nietzsches Dionysian interpretation of life: Life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, conquest of the foreign and the weaker, oppression, harshness, imposition of its own forms.17
Although living things, as individual constellations of quanta, are necessarily egoistic to the core,18 said Nietzsche, the enhancement of their power, rather than the lives of individual men, is the ultimate cosmic goal. Nothing exists for itself alone.19 And further, Nietzsche tells us, There is nothing to life that has value besides the degree of power.20 The deepest desire of life is to create beyond and above itself.21 In other words, power is not for the sake of life; rather, life exists to serve power.
In sum, Nietzsches view of reality denies the fundamentality of individual entities. On the basis of an alleged mystical insight, he asserts the existence and omnipresence of a cosmic Will to Power as the true metaphysical fundamental. Activity is more fundamental than that which acts, and activity is the product of a dialectical clash of contradictions. Power (not life) is the ultimate value. Life is essentially conflict. And life in service to the cosmic Will to Power is the highest fate available to man.
These positions put him squarely in opposition to Ayn Rand.
It is difficult to imagine a metaphysics more opposite to Nietzsches than that of Ayn Rand. Nietzsches worldview is dominated by turmoil, flux, dialectics, contradictions, cosmological mythswith centers of power-seeking activity as the ultimate constituents. In contrast, Ayn Rands metaphysics consists of the axioms of existence, consciousness, and identity, and, as a corollary, the law of causality.
In Rands view, the world out there consists of entities existing independent of consciousness, a world where existence has primacy over consciousness, a world of stable natural law. Her metaphysics, as we shall see, leads to views of human nature, epistemology, ethics, and politics that are opposite to those engendered by Nietzsches metaphysics of turmoil and flux.
Rand held that certain primaries are inescapable, directly observable, irreducible to anything more fundamental, implicit in all facts and knowledge, and rationally undeniable. These axiomatic facts are existence (something exists), consciousness (of which I am aware) and identity (and it is something specific). They are implicit in perception and used in any attempt to deny them.
Regarding the primacy of existence, wrote Rand, every phenomenon of consciousness is derived from ones awareness of the external world.22 Thus, man gains knowledge of reality by looking outward,23 and the development of human cognition starts with the ability to perceive things, i.e., entities.24
In Rands metaphysics, entities exist out there. They are not mere illusory mental concoctions, as Nietzsche claims. And, contrary to Nietzsche, they are not cosmologically intuited constellations of unfolding contradictory forces; they are what we perceive them to be:
A thing iswhat it is; its characteristics constitute its identity. An existent apart from its characteristic would be an existent apart from its identity, which means: a nothing, a non-existent.25
Entities are what they are; A is A; to be is to be something specific; existence is identity. Thus, a contradiction cannot exist; nothing can contradict its own identity, nor can a part contradict the whole; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate ones mind.26
Nietzsches metaphysics was anathema to Rand, who held that change cannot be fundamental, for there is no change without something changing. Nietzsches dynamic universe, wrote Leonard Peikoff, was a resurrection of the ancient theory of Heraclitus: reality is a stream of change without entities or of action without anything that acts; it is a wild, chaotic flux.27 And Rand rejected it outright. All the countless forms, motions, combinations and dissolutions of elements within the universe, she wrote, are caused and determined by the identities of the elements involved.28
Ayn Rands world is not the mystery world of Dionysus. It is a causal world of lawful order. Whether its basic constituent elements are atoms, or subatomic particles, or some yet undiscovered forms of energy, wrote Rand, the universe is not ruled by a consciousness or by will or by chance, but by the Law of Identity.29
Rands world is not a Dionysian cauldron. It is not false, cruel, contradictory, demoralizing, without sense.30 And it is not a place in which mens lives are characterized by conflict, mystery, and fate. It is a world of entities, the identities of which determine their capacities to acta world of natural law and knowable fact. Consequently, it is a world in which individuals can live and prosper.
In Nietzsches view, as we saw earlier, the understanding (or naturalizing, as he termed it) of any subject matter involves reducing it to little bundles of power-seeking energy (i.e., quanta). Human beings are reducible to constellations of quanta, each caught up in the cosmic struggle to increase its power. From this, Nietzsche drew several inferences: . . .
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Return to Spring 2017 Contents
1. Ayn Rand, Q&A, The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Our Age, The Ayn Rand Program radio series, April 5, 1962, in Ayn Rand Answers, edited by Robert Mayhew (New York: New American Library, 2005), 117.
2. Ayn Rand, Objectivism vs. Nietzscheanism, Ayn Rand on Campus radio program, December 13, 1964.
3. Whittaker Chambers, Big Sister Is Watching You, National Review, December 28, 1957.
4. Jennifer Burns, Goddess of the Market (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 303n4.
5. Ayn Rand, interview by Barbara Branden, transcript 198, The Ayn Rand Archives, Irvine, CA.
6. Rand, interview, 200.
7. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, translated by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1989), 228.
8. Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It (New York: New American Library, 1984), 2.
9. Ayn Rand, Journals of Ayn Rand, edited by David Harriman (New York: Penguin, 1997), 698.
10. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, translated by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1968), 54950.
11. Friedrich Nietzsche, Philosophy during the Tragic Age of the Greeks, quoted in F. A. Lea, The Tragic Philosopher (London: Methuen: 1957), 46.
12. Heraclitus, B80.
13. Heraclitus, B53.
14. Nietzsche, Tragic Age of the Greeks, quoted in Lea, The Tragic Philosopher, 46.
15. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Book One, sec. 13, translated by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1969), 45.
16. Nietzsche, Will to Power, quoted in G. A. Morgan, What Nietzsche Means (New York: Harper, 1965), 277.
17. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, quoted in Morgan, What Nietzsche Means, 61.
18. Nietzsche, Will to Power, quoted in Lea, The Tragic Philosopher, 285.
19. Nietzsche, Will to Power, quoted in Lea, The Tragic Philosopher, 212.
20. Nietzsche, Will to Power, quoted in Morgan, What Nietzsche Means, 118.
21. Nietzsche, Will to Power, quoted in Morgan, What Nietzsche Means, 63.
22. Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd ed. (New York: New American Library, 1990), 29.
23. Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It, 29.
24. Ayn Rand, Art and Cognition, in The Romantic Manifesto (New York: New American Library, 1971), 46.
25. Leonard Peikoff, The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy, in Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 105.
26. Ayn Rand, This is John Galt Speaking, in Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual (New York: New American Library, 1961), 126.
27. Leonard Peikoff, The Ominous Parallels (New York: New American Library, 1982), 51.
28. Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It, 25.
29. Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It, 25.
30. Nietzsche, Will to Power, quoted in Morgan, What Nietzsche Means, 50.
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Posted: at 4:30 am
Intrepid travelers could fly to space from a UK space port as soon as 2020 under new laws.
Commercial flights for people willing to go to infinity and beyond could be available in just three years.
Space travel has long been a dream for people hoping to explore the area outside our planet.
Richard Bransons Virgin Galactic and Dutch-founded Xcor are among those that could take passengers up to the final frontier when services go live.
In Virgin Galactics plans, astronauts would cost $250,000 for the flight into the Earths atmosphere.
SpaceX is also offering trips to the International Space Station after it made history in 2012 when it became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the space station.
Sunday night its Falcon 9 rocket launched on a mission to resupply the space station.
Under new powers unveiled this week, scientists will blast into space to conduct zero-gravity experiments in a bid to find cures for deadly bugs like MRSA and salmonella.
The laws allowing commercial flights to take off from UK space ports by 2020 will also permit researchers to carry out tests on potential new antibiotics in orbit.
The powers in the spaceflight bill will be revealed in Parliament this week.
It means a rocket spaceflight could take off from a space port in Britain before a new runway is built at Heathrow.
Science Minister Jo Johnson said the new powers would cement the UKs position as a world leader in an emerging market worth up to $26 billion (25 billion) over the next 20 years.
Space ports could be set up and satellites launched from regions across the UK under the plans.
Newquay in Cornwall; Llanbedr in Snowdonia; and three Scottish sites, Glasgow Prestwick, Campbeltown, and Stornaway in the Western Isles have all been shortlisted as potential space port sites.
Because of Britains position far from the equator, its likely space planes would take off from a horizontal runway rather than a rocket launch pad.
They will transport satellites up into orbit or take paying space tourists although its thought space tourism would only make up around 10 percent of the industry.
NASA scientists have been carrying out scientific research in space for the last five years.
This week US scientists sent the lethal MRSA bug up to the International Space Station for astronauts to study how the superbug becomes resistant to antibiotics.
Aviation Minister Lord Ahmad said the ambition was to launch a space flight from the UK as soon as possible.
He said: Our ambition is to allow for safe and competitive access to space from the UK, so we remain at the forefront of a new commercial space age.
Johnson added: From the launch of Rosetta, the first spacecraft to orbit a comet, to Tim Peakes six months on the International Space Station, the UKs space sector has achieved phenomenal things in orbit and beyond.
With this weeks spaceflight bill launch, we will cement the UKs position as a world leader in this emerging market, giving us an opportunity to build on existing strengths in research and innovation.
This article originally appeared on The Sun.
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Posted: at 4:15 am
Every detail — the latex skin, the mat of baby black hair — seemed as realistic as a Ron Mueck sculpture. The left arm rose slowly, the mouth half-open, the eyelids flickering into a squint. I studied it intensely, half expecting a response — a cry, a gurgle — but without any desire to rescue the baby from the wall and cradle it. Side on, it was unmistakably a machine. An umbilical cord of shiny metal tubing fed into its spine.
“Robots” is as much about culture as it is about science. It answers a deceptively simple question that has been pondered for the last 500 years: How do we design robots we can happily interact with?
The question has become increasingly topical as humanoid robots multiply in the lab, with some likely to end up in our homes, schools, universities and clinics, as well as theme parks and museums.
Curator Ben Russell spent five years assembling over 100 humanoid robots for this show. He’s tracked down historic robots and automata and along the way, and managed to salvage a few of them. (One was made out of central heating components, another out of scrap metal and found rusting outside.)
“We like to anthropomorphize. We are the only species who do. We like to invent objects like us,” he says of the humanoids on display.
In 1970, a Japanese robotics researcher named Masahiro Mori posited a complex phenomenon known as the uncanny valley. His basic theory was that we respond positively to a robot as it becomes more human in look but only up to a certain point. And then suddenly, we are strongly repelled by it.
“Robots can reach a point where they become too much like us, are too corpse-like and creepy,” Russell says.
The robot appears nearly human, but not quite right. It induces the discomfort of being close to something that is ill, and reminds us of our own mortality.
Contemporary robot designers seem to have responded to this challenge in different ways.
The trumpet playing robot, Harry (2005), made by the Toyota car company, is plainly a white silicon humanoid robot but without any real facial features. He exists to entertain just like one of the old toy automata, and can play tunes like “What a Wonderful World.”
One of Russell’s favorite exhibits, Eccerobot (2009), was more realistic, with a design based on the 19th century medical textbook “Gray’s Anatomy.”
It’s human in shape, but without any kind of skin or proper face. All the innards are exposed and mimic the inner mechanics of the human body. Motors, cord, kite line and polymorph are substituted for muscles, tendons, joints and bones.
(I did find it humanly sympathetic in one respect: Eccerobot regularly seizes up with backache and has to be rested overnight.)
Russell introduced a Japanese communication robot called Kodomoroid as “one of the freakiest robots in the show.”
I didn’t disagree. With a helmet of black hair (almost a Mary Quant bob) and dressed immaculately in white smock and ballet flats, she seemed unnervingly real and yet also like a shop mannequin come to life. As with the animatronic baby, I examined her intensely. She too wasn’t quite right.
Her job, back in Japan, is to read the daily news at the National Science Museum.
According to Russell, the Japanese have embraced robots culturally more than any other country. In fact, about a third of the robots in the exhibition are from Japan.
Russell draws a connection with Japan’s dominant Shinto faith, in which there is no large between humans and inanimate objects. The sun, the moon, mountains and tree all have their own spirits or souls.
Telenoid (2013), developed at Osaka University, is a communication robot, glistening white and bald with tapering limbs devoid of hands and feet. A child, operating it remotely by computer, can use it to communicate with someone in another country.
The claim is that Telenoid reproduces in a physical form the child’s movements and personality, as well as the voice. In trials, people have apparently been happy to talk to and cuddle the robot. They speak of the warmth of feeling in Telenoid’s eyes.
Conversely, robots are often seen as a threat in the West, and we’re still trying to overcome our suspicions.
Even the origin of the term “robot” was a bit sinister: It first entered the lexicon in 1921 via a dystopian play, “R.U.R.,” by Czech writer Karel Capek. (R.U.R stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots.)
The drama was set in a factory manufacturing humanoid robots from synthetic organic material. The robots rebel and wipe out the human race.
However, American robotics designer David Hanson has chosen not to worry about unnerving us and is already designing robots of uncanny realism with artificial intelligence and empathy, facial expression and the ability to chat. I was disappointed not to meet one; Hanson’s robots aren’t on display at the Science Museum.
“In the not-too-distant future, Genius Machines will walk among us. They will be smart, kind, and wise,” it reads on his website. “Together, man and machine will create a better future for the world.”
We shall see.
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China May Soon Surpass America on the Artificial Intelligence Battlefield – The National Interest Online
Posted: at 4:14 am
The rapidity of recent Chinese advances in artificial intelligence indicates that the country is capable of keeping pace with, or perhaps even overtaking, the United States in this critical emerging technology. The successes of major Chinese technology companies, notably Baidu Inc., Alibaba Group and Tencent Holding Ltd.and even a number of start-upshave demonstrated the dynamism of these private-sector efforts in artificial intelligence. From speech recognition to self-driving cars, Chinese research is cutting edge. Although the military dimension of Chinas progress in artificial intelligence has remained relatively opaque, there is also relevant research occurring in the Peoples Liberation Army research institutes and the Chinese defense industry. Evidently, the PLA recognizes the disruptive potential of the varied military applications of artificial intelligence, from unmanned weapons systems to command and control. Looking forward, the PLA anticipates that the advent of artificial intelligence will fundamentally change the character of warfare, ultimately resulting in a transformation from todays informationized () ways of warfare to future intelligentized () warfare.
The Chinese leadership has prioritized artificial intelligence at the highest levels, recognizing its expansive applications and strategic implications. The initial foundation for Chinas progress in artificial intelligence was established through long-term research funded by national science and technology plans, such as the 863 Program. Notably, Chinas 13th Five-Year Plan (201620) called for breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, which was also highlighted in the 13th Five-Year National Science and Technology Innovation Plan. The new initiatives focus on artificial intelligence and have been characterized as the China Brain Plan (), which seeks to enhance understandings of human and artificial intelligence alike. In addition, the Internet Plus and Artificial Intelligence, a three-year implementation plan for artificial intelligence (201618), emphasizes the development of artificial intelligence and its expansive applications, including in unmanned systems, in cyber security and for social governance. Beyond these current initiatives, the Chinese Academy of Engineering has proposed an Artificial Intelligence 2.0 Plan, and the Ministry of Science and Technology of the Peoples Republic of China has reportedly tasked a team of experts to draft a plan for the development of artificial intelligence through 2030. The apparent intensity of this support and funding will likely enable continued, rapid advances in artificial intelligence with dual-use applications.
Chinas significant progress in artificial intelligence must be contextualized by the national strategy of civil-military integration or military-civil fusion () that has become a high-level priority under President Xi Jinpings leadership. Consequently, it is not unlikely that nominally civilian technological capabilities will eventually be utilized in a military context. For instance, An Weiping (), deputy chief of staff of the PLAs Northern Theater Command, has highlighted the importance of deepening civil-military integration, especially for such strategic frontier technologies as artificial intelligence. Given this strategic approach, the boundaries between civilian and military research and development tend to blur. In a notable case, Li Deyi () acts as the director of the Chinese Association for Artificial Intelligence, and he is affiliated with Tsinghua University and the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Concurrently, Li Deyi is a major general in the PLA who serves as deputy director of the Sixty-First Research Institute, under the aegis of the Central Military Commission (CMC) Equipment Development Department.
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Posted: at 4:10 am
In a collaborative project, the UOs Patrick Phillips tackles a problem of reproducibility while studying potential anti-aging compounds
Worms. Might they help us live a healthier and longer life?
Extending human life in ways that keep people both healthy and productive is a goal of many scientists, including the UO’s Patrick Phillips.
His latest project, which he leads in collaboration with two other U.S. institutions, may not immediately move us closer to extending human life beyond the national average of 79. It has, however, opened a window on how basic research that which seeks fundamental knowledge about how something works should be done to harness robust results that speed progress toward medical advances.
In a new paper published Feb. 21 in the high-profile journal Nature Communications, Phillips and 33 collaborators got right to the heart of the challenge: Too many laboratory findings are not reproducible, and the genetic makeup of model organisms often responds differently to compounds thought to offer promise.
“Aging is universal. It is complex. Individuals die for many different reasons, so there is a lot of noise in the system,” said Phillips, a professor of biology and acting executive director of the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. “It is a challenge to figure out the elements necessary to change the process. To do this you have to approach the question at a scale that has never been done before. That’s what our paper is about.”
In their study, Phillips nine-member UO team and researchers from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in California and Rutgers University in New Jersey carefully carried out experiments using identical protocols. They simultaneously tested the effects of 10 different compounds on life extension across 22 diverse genetic backgrounds drawn from three species of roundworms.
“This is the largest aging study that has ever been done on an animal hundreds of thousands of individuals have been tested,” Phillips said.
Our study indicates that even when following the same methods, insufficient replication of trials could account for failures to reproduce previous studies, the research team noted in the paper. Our focus on rigorously adhering to defined methods to reduce variability between sites necessitated making choices about specific methodologies for which there was no standard across the field.
Locations of worm strains
Across the labs, the researchers identified six compounds that extended the lifespan in one strain of worms. Overall, two compounds had positive results across the various strains, with an amyloid dye, Thioflavin T, being the most effective; two other compounds offered promise under specific conditions. Genetic differences among the species are comparable to those found in mice and humans, the researchers noted.
More details about the science and Thioflavin T are covered in a news release issued by the Buck Institute.
Future experiments, Phillips said, will test these and other promising compounds in genetically diverse strains of roundworm species to see how they perform. Eventually, the most widely acting compounds could advance into testing in other animal models and, eventually, in human clinical trials.
The research emerged from three-year grants to each of the three collaborating institutions from the National Institutes of Health. It is part of an extension of the National Institute on Agings decade-old Intervention Testing Program that has targeted aging studies using mice at three other institutions. The roundworm project is known as the Caenorhabditis Intervention Testing Program.
Roundworms, which have a lifespan of two to three weeks, have a simple genetic makeup that is similar to mice, which in laboratories can live up to three years. Thus, Phillips noted, more individual worms can be used more cheaply in the course of experiments that span the life cycle.
Compounds that have been found to extend life in worms and mice have proved so far to be limited to organisms with a particular genetic background.
This is a dark side of studying a model organism, Phillips said. You have genetic uniformity in worms and mice, but humans are not genetically uniform. We know that different individuals respond differently to drugs and that the cause of disease is often different in each individual. Overcoming those limitations is a big part of the push toward personalized medicine.
From the outset, he said, the roundworm project has been about reproducibility in a way that mirrors the approaches used by the institutions studying mice.
We’ve had to invest a lot of time in coordinating activities, Phillips said. That’s often an unstated part of the difficulty of doing science. For this, we’ve written hundreds of pages of standard operating procedures to try to normalize the research process.
There is a history in aging studies where one lab finds a result but another lab cannot reproduce it,” he said. “Cancer studies are the same. Only about 25 percent of studies can be reproduced with similar results. This is a big emerging issue in science now, so we feel like our study is one of the best on reproducibility that has ever been produced.
For the project, the leaders of the three labs brought different specialties of nematode biology to the table: Phillips is an expert in evolutionary genetics; Gordon J. Lithgow of the Buck Institute is a specialist on chemical interventions; and Rutgers Monica Driscoll is an aging and health expert.
Can we expect to see extended human lifespans soon?
What we find in this worm may or may not work in mice or humans, Phillips said. We’re looking at things that affect fundamental cellular processes that are conserved genetically across all animals.
Carrying basic research forward is a goal of the Knight Campus, a $1 billion initiative designed to accelerate the cycle of generating impact from discoveries. The Knight Campus, which has seen some recent behind-the-scences progress on staffing and the selection of architects and general contractors, will foster exchanges of ideas among basic-science researchers with applied scientists and entrepreneurs to foster that translational process.
With this research, you are seeing the classic impact cycle, Phillips said. You have a guy working in a most esoteric part of evolutionary biology something that you’d generally think could have no general impacts just to gain understanding about something about the world. It is important, but in terms of affecting human health, who knows? Understanding genetic variation is being recognized as being more important each day. And so what once seemed esoteric is now important for understanding translational medicine.
As scientists expand into studying stress and aging in terms of natural genetic variation in different species, then my area’s unique contributions fit into a broader scale. We’re looking at compounds in a way thats never been done before. We are identifying compounds that can affect health and aging, he said. What do we do with that?
The point is not to make worms live a long time. It’s how we use the information. How might this translate a decade from now into something that could go into human clinical trials to try to help people to live longer healthier lives? Can we turn this basic research into something that is relevant? Are there potential drugs that could?
That could be a Knight Campus story, Phillips said.
By Jim Barlow, University Communications
Originally posted here:
Posted: at 4:09 am
Kyrie Irving (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
This past weekend during the National Basketball Associations All-Star festivities, Cleveland Cavaliers basketball star Kyrie Irving appeared on the NBA podcast Road Tripping With RJ & Channing and said, The Earth is flat. The Earth is flat. … Its right in front of our faces. Im telling you, its right in front of our faces. They lie to us.
Asked about his comment the next day on ESPN, Irving refused to backtrack, and offered the following:
Hopefully theyll either back my belief or theyll throw it in the water. But I think its interesting for people to find out on their own. … Ive seen a lot of things that my education system has said that was real that turned out to be completely fake. I dont mind going against the grain in terms of my thoughts.
News outlets, blogs and social media immediately blew up, branding him an insane, anti-science conspiracy theorist. How could someone who attended one of the countrys most prestigious universities long enough to play 11 whole games believe something so asinine? Is Kyrie going crazy? Is he a victim of gross misinformation? Maybe one of the NBAs most eloquent black players is simply stupid.
Or maybe he is just like America.
For a moment, lets set aside the fact that the flat-Earth theory is a growing, global movement that fascinates many ill-informed people (including rapper B.o.B.who feuded with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson about this subject last year). Irving is a 24-year-old millennial who lives in a world where facts no longer matter. Media, politicians and the entire Cabinet of our pea-brained, petty president have repeatedly shown that truth, logic and science are all debatable in this new era where data exists in shades of gray.
Make no mistake, the Earth is round. Astronomy proved it millennia ago. Every third-grade teacher can explain it in 11 minutes. There is no need to debate it.
How crazy is it to believe the Earth is flat?
It is as crazy as the debate that police brutality is not a black problem. Last week the Journal of Criminology and Public Policy analyzed 990 police shootings in 2015. It found that black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when they are shot by police. Even when the journal adjusted the data to account for the people who attacked police or other victims, the results were clear: If your skin is black, your chances of getting killed by police while unarmed are double.
Yet police unions, Blue Lives Matter advocates and anyone appearing on Fox News refuse to admit that police brutality is a black problem. Every study shows it, but when faced with facts, they act just like Irving. When the journal released its findings, every black person reading it had the same reaction they would have if you told them the Earth was round:
Yes, youd have to be an idiot to believe the world is flat, but there are also people who believe that voter-ID laws arent racist despite the evidence to the contrary. The Washington Post published its own extensive research last week after studying data from elections from 2006 through 2016 that shows voter-ID laws suppress the minority vote and benefit Republicans. But state legislatures continue to institute these laws and pretend to act befuddled when people accuse them of racism. Even after courts across the land say they are prejudiced. Even after the facts show that voter-ID laws make the electorate more conservative. Even after Republican consultant Carter Wrenn said, Look, if African Americans voted overwhelmingly Republican, they would have kept early voting right where it was.
But none of these statistics matter. If you learned that the fucktard-in-chief had placed a longtime opponent of the Voting Rights Act in charge of the Department of Justice, youd think that was as stupid as someone telling you that you might fall off the edge of the world.
Water is wet, the planet is actually a sphere and black people have an economic disadvantage in America.
All three of those statements seem clear to anyone with a double-digit IQ, yet only two of them are accepted by the conservative Zeitgeist (pronounced why-pee-pull). Keeping in the theme of studies released last week, the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University joined with the think tank Demos to release a study entitled The Asset Value of Whiteness (pdf). The paper shows that there is an inherent value of being white in America that translates to an economic advantage. It proves that the racial wealth gap in America has nothing to do with education level, income or spending habits.
They will tell you the American dream is achievable through hard work alone. They would have you believe that education is the key, and that success has nothing to do with race, being born into privilege or the generational inheritance of whiteness. If you believe that, you might as well believe the planet is shaped like a dinner plate.
No, the Earth is not flat, but Irving is as crazy as the people who believe that a Muslim ban can save us from terrorismeven though most terrorists are white males. He is as misguided as the people who see the floods, tornados, blizzards and droughts but refuse to believe that global warming is real. Thinking that you are affixed to a Frisbee flying through space is as ludicrous as guns dont kill people, people kill people. The flat-Earth theory is as stupid as All Lives Matter.
The fact that Irving believes that scientists, astronauts, physicists and everyone in the world who owns a telescope are complicit in a global conspiracy to hide an inconsequential fact is absolutely preposterous. But he puts a ball into a hole for a living, so his paranoid delusion about planetary physics doesnt hurt a soul (until he tries to help his kids with their science homework).
Conversely, the people in power who deny the obvious by-products of racism in America to maintain their white-knuckle grip on power and control arent being silly or ill-informed. Their intentional disregard for repeatedly proven fact at the expense of people of color is evil and deranged, and it is our duty to keep punching them in the face until we finally knock out the 400-year-old hate monster.
They would have you believe that math, data, science and truth are now irrelevant and meaningless, but if we allow opinion and lies to replace evidence and accuracy, then we all get to live in our selective, delusional reality. Im sure that in some of those universes, racism doesnt exist, Donald Trump is a great president and, yes …
Maybe the Earth is flat.
Read the original here:
Posted: at 3:59 am
Photo: Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images
One morning in the summer of 2015, I sat in a featureless office in Berkeley as a young computer programmer walked me through how he intended to save the world. The world needed saving, he insisted, not from climate change or from the rise of the far right, or the treacherous instability of global capitalism but from the advent of artificial superintelligence, which would almost certainly wipe humanity from the face of the earth unless certain preventative measures were put in place by a very small number of dedicated specialists such as himself, who alone understood the scale of the danger and the course of action necessary to protect against it.
This intense and deeply serious young programmer was Nate Soares, the executive director of MIRI (Machine Intelligence Research Institute), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the safe which is to say, non-humanity-obliterating development of artificial intelligence. As I listened to him speak, and as I struggled (and failed) to follow the algebraic abstractions he was scrawling on a whiteboard in illustration of his preferred doomsday scenario, I was suddenly hit by the full force of a paradox: The austere and inflexible rationalism of this mans worldview had led him into a grand and methodically reasoned absurdity.
In researching and reporting my book, To Be a Machine, I had spent much of the previous 18 months among the adherents of the transhumanist movement, a broad church comprising life-extension advocates, cryonicists, would-be cyborgs, Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs, neuroscientists looking to convert the human brain into code, and so forth all of whom were entirely convinced that science and technology would allow us to transcend the human condition. With many of these transhumanists (the vast majority of whom, it bears mentioning, were men), I had experienced some version of this weird cognitive dissonance, this apprehension of a logic-unto-madness. I had come across it so frequently, in fact, that I wound up giving it a name: magical rationalism.
The key thing about magical rationalism is that its approach to a given question always seems, and in most meaningful respects is, perfectly logical. To take our current example, the argument about AI posing an existential risk to our species seems, on one level, quite compelling. The basic gist is this: If and when we develop human-level artificial intelligence, its only a matter of time until this AI, by creating smarter and smarter iterations of itself, gives rise to a machine whose intelligence is as superior to our own as our intelligence currently is to that of other animal species. (Lets leave the cephalopods out of this for the moment, because who knows what the hell is going on with those guys.) Computers being what they are, though, theres a nontrivial risk of this superintelligent AI taking the commands its issued far too literally. You tell it, for instance, to eliminate cancer once and for all, and it takes the shortest and most logical route to that end by wiping out all life-forms in which abnormal cell division might potentially occur. (An example of the cure-worse-than-the-disease scenario so perfect that you would not survive long enough to appreciate its perfection.) As far as I can see, theres nothing about this scenario that is anything but logically sound, and yet here we are, taken to a place that most of us will agree feels deeply and intuitively batshit. (The obvious counterargument to this, of course, is that just because something feels intuitively batshit doesnt mean that its not going to happen. Its worth bearing in mind that the history of science is replete with examples of this principle.)
Magical rationalism arises out of a quasi-religious worldview, in which reason takes the place of the godhead, and whereby all of our human problems are soluble by means of its application. The power of rationalism, manifested in the form of technology the word made silicon has the potential to deliver us from all evils, up to and including death itself. This spiritual dimension is most clearly visible in the techno-millenarianism of the Singularity: the point on the near horizon of our future at which human beings will finally and irrevocably merge with technology, to become uploaded minds, disembodied beings of pure and immutable thought. (Nate Soares, in common with many of those working to eliminate the existential threat posed by AI, viewed this as the best-case scenario for the future, as the kingdom of heaven that would be ours if we could only avoid the annihilation of our species by AI. I myself found it hard to conceive of as anything other than a vision of deepest hell.)
In his book The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil, a futurist and director of engineering at Google, lays out the specifics of this post-human afterlife. The Singularity, he writes, will allow us to transcend these limitations of our biological bodies and brains. We will gain power over our fates. Our mortality will be in our hands. We will be able to live as long as we want (a subtly different statement from saying we will live forever). We will fully understand human thinking and will vastly extend and expand its reach. By the end of this century, the nonbiological portion of our intelligence will be trillions of times more powerful than unaided human intelligence. This is magical rationalism in its purest form: It arises out of the same human terrors and desires as the major religions the terror of death, the desire to transcend it and proceeds toward the same kinds of visionary mythologizing.
This particular Singularitarian strain of magical rationalism could be glimpsed in Elon Musks widely reported recent comments at a conference in Dubai. Humans, he insisted, would need to merge with machines in order to avoid becoming obsolete. Its mostly about the bandwidth, he explained; computers were capable of processing information at a trillion bits per second, while we humans could input data into our devices at a mere ten bits per second, or thereabouts. From the point of view of narrow rationalism, Musks argument was sort of compelling if computers are going to beat us at our own game, wed better find ways to join them but it only really made sense if you thought of a human being as a kind of computer to begin with. (Were computers; were just rubbish at computing compared to actual computers these days.)
While writing To Be a Machine, I kept finding myself thinking about Flann OBriens surreal comic masterpiece The Third Policeman, in which everyone is unhealthily obsessed with bicycles, and men who spend too much time on their bicycles wind up themselves becoming bicycles via some kind of mysterious process of molecular transfer. Transhumanism a world as overwhelmingly male as OBriens rural Irish hellscape often seemed to me to be guided by a similar kind of overidentification with computers, a strange confusion of the distinct categories of human and machine. Because if computation is the ultimate value, the ultimate end of intelligence, then it makes absolute sense to become better versions of the computers we already are. We must optimize for intelligence, as transhumanists are fond of saying meaning by intelligence, in most cases, the exercise of pure reason. And this is the crux of magical rationalism: It is both an idealization of reason, of beautiful and rigorous abstraction, and a mode of thinking whereby reason is made to serve as the faithful handmaiden of absolute madness. Because reason is, among its other uses, a finely calibrated tool by which the human animal pursues its famously unreasonable ends.
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Read the original post:
Posted: at 3:56 am
It has been a nervous year, Tom Lehrer once remarked, and people have begun to feel like aChristian Scientist with appendicitis. That was 1965, and he was speaking of the escalation in Vietnam and the Dominican Civil War. With President Donald Trump steering foreign policy, Americans surely know how he felt.
The latest news is that Defense Secretary James Mattis has told NATO allies that if they dont start carrying their weight, the U.S. is going to moderate its commitment to the region. Now, as an abstract matter of principle, Im firmly behind this. Only five NATO countries actually hit their targets, and three of them are a lot poorer than the sponging grifters that have cut their militaries back while enjoying the safety of the U.S. security umbrella.
The freeloading countries dont even send a fruit basket to Washington to say thanks. In fact, as a rightish American whos spent a bit of time abroad, I can personally attest that many of those NATO members citizens feel free to disparage our massive military budget, as if their smaller budgets were some sort of moral sacrifice rather than an unearned benefit paid for by U.S. taxpayers.
There, I got that off my chest. I hope we all feel better.
Nonetheless, even for me, Mattiss statement is a sort of gulp moment. The Europeans arent the only people who benefit from the American security umbrella. The fact that the worlds biggest rich economy is willing to spend so much of its GDP on the military doesnt just mean that other countries dont have to; it also means that other countries dont bother, because they cant possibly catch up.
There are downsides to this. Countries with a big hammer will inevitably end up using it in ways that turn out to be stupid. (See: Iraq.) It also, inevitably means that the security umbrella of the world will be used in ways that the country that owns it likes. (See complaints by every country except the U.S., many of them justified.) But for all that, you can certainly imagine a country with an America-sized military advantage doing much worse things with it. Many worse things. In fact, when you think about alternative histories, were pretty far into the happy zone of the spectrum. Not all the way to utopia, mind you. But a lot better than youd imagine, if youd never heard of the United States of America and you were plotting out your science fiction novel with a dominant, heavily armed nation.
A more evenly multi-polar world would look like — well, perhaps youre acquainted with a little tiff known to historians as World War I. You may even have read about the exciting sequel they made when the first production turned out to be so great. That was terrifying enough when the nastiest stuff in the worlds arsenal was toxic gas. It gets even more terrifying when you have bombs that can flatten a city or worse.
Unfortunately military spending is the ur-example of what economists call a public good. These provide a benefit to everyone, and once the benefit has been created, it cannot be taken away from anyone.
Imagine a public health campaign that eliminates HIV, wiping it off the face of the planet. Thats an enormous benefit to the world. But if I pay to get rid of HIV, I have no way to charge you for the benefit I provided. Once Ive gotten rid of HIV, you benefit from my investment, whether you pay me back or not.
Public health, defense, crime control — these are classic public goods because for some people to get the benefit, everyone has to. Unfortunately, the optimal self-interested strategy is therefore to let other people pay for the stuff, while you free ride. If everyone practices the optimal strategy, no one gets the benefit. Enter government, which has to secure these things, if were going to have them, and force everyone to pay the bill.
Thats fine for crime, because its effects are local and the cost of management relatively moderate. If the Topeka City Council figures out a way to wipe out crime, theres probably very little spillover effect in San Luis Obispo, and zero cost to San Luis Obispoans. But in the case of plagues and national defense, we can run into a problem, which is that the effects are very large, and the investment required can be huge. Imagine that we didnt treat national defense as a federal responsibility, and handed it to the states. Maine and Texas would have gigantic militaries; places like Connecticut and Oregon might have sizeable Coast Guards. But the rational military budget for a place like Nebraska would be pretty close to zero. Because border states are of limited size and financial capacity, the militaries of those places would probably be smaller than everyone would like, even as the proud people of Montana labored under gruesome taxes to protect Coloradans from the fearsome Canadian horde.
In fact, you see this problem with NATO. Of the five countries that are actually pulling their weight, only two can be said to be doing so for reasons that arent strictly rational self-interest (the U.S. and Britain). The other three — Greece, Poland and Estonia — border non-NATO countries and are pretty worried about future conflict with a military power that meets or exceeds their own. The problem is that neither Poland nor Estonia could ever even remotely hope to repel a Russian invasion. If the U.S. gets fed up with its NATO partners and withdraws, Germany would be depending on the Poles to fend off any Russian aggression — or hoping that Russia got sick of all the winning after they took Poland and stopped there. (See: World War II.)
Military capacity takes time to build up; even the famous mobilizations of the 20th century were built around a core of officers who had spent their lives thinking about little things like the best tactics to repel invasions, and how to transport large numbers of troops and supporting items to the front while keeping them in condition to fight, and how to get people to overcome their self-interest to pick up a gun and run into harms way.
Only the U.S. has consistently invested so much in this buildup. Because the U.S. has decided to provide this public good of military protection to much of the world, other countries have let those skills atrophy. If the U.S. actually decided to become isolationist, other countries might quickly become willing to assume its military roles, but would not immediately be able to. Pouring money into the defense budget now will not create the majors and lieutenant colonels and generals you need; those arise only if you invested in lieutenants years back.
All of humanity now benefits from this public good: a world in which major wars are pointless. No government except the U.S. can possibly provide that. (Even if you think youd fancy a world policed by China better, its economy does not yet throw off enough surplus to play lone superpower, and neither does Russias.) Multilateral institutions can step into the breach somewhat, but multilateral institutions dont have the same taxing power that a territorial state does, and it shows. All NATO can really do is complain that members arent meeting their targets. The U.S., as the member picking up the tab, can threaten to pull out if other states don’t contribute more. But following through on that threat would hurt us as well as them.
Given those two choices, Ill grit my teeth and pay the taxes and practice my frozen smile for my next trip to Europe. But if Trump makes the other choice, then I, like everyone else in the world, will have to live with the result.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
To contact the author of this story: Megan McArdle at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Philip Gray at email@example.com
Posted: at 3:51 am
Spectacular SpaceX Space Station Launch and 1st Stage Landing Photo/Video Gallery
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Posted: at 3:41 am
The world is getting hotter, as the scientists predicted. Not a week seems to go by without some new temperature record being set or some new sign emerging that the climate and other natural systems are changing more rapidly than they should be. The strong correlation between our excessive burning of fossil fuels and global warming is becoming a more compelling argument every day. Despite this, however, arguments over anthropogenic climate change and what to do about it continue with seemingly little progress being made in some countries.
The current national governments in the USA and Australia, for example, are making the case for increasing fossil fuel consumption and creating and developing new sources. They are at the same time actively obstructing action to address climate change. They are doing this on several fronts; the science is un-proven, it is not politically expedient, any action will retard economic growth and the latest, lack of base-load power will compromise energy security.
I argue, however, that the argument is not primarily about science, politics, the economy or energy security, but whether we are mature enough to deal with it. This is a deep philosophical argument, thousands of years old, over what we understand to be the best trajectory of development for human beings.
One side of the argument sees our best trajectory to be transcendence of nature. This has long been a position of several religious traditions but is now also represented by the secular philosophy of transhumanism. The other sees our best trajectory to be an eventual re-connection with nature. This is also a position held by some religious traditions and is also represented by several secular, holistic philosophies. Which side prevails in this age old debate will largely determine our future.
The fact that we have an anthropogenic warming problem at all indicates that it is the transhumanist position which is currently prevailing and has been for some time. In its current manifestation, this position represents the dream of what philosopher Isiah Berlin called negative freedom; freedom from all constraints as opposed to positive freedom, or freedom to, which recognizes constraints as the condition for freedom.
Transhumanism is generally regarded as a fringe philosophy promoted by extremists such as Max More and Ray Kurzweil. They predict and welcome a future technological singularity in which our machines will become self-conscious and in doing so, exceed our own intelligence. This will necessitate us fusing with our machines in order to survive, becoming omnipotent, immortal cyborgs in the process (if the machines let us).
It is this wet dream which inspired the controversial novel, The Transhumanist Wager, written by self-declared transhumanist, Zoltan Istvan. In this story, the protagonist, transhumanist philosopher, Jethro Knights, goes about creating his own omnipotence at the expense of anyone who chooses to obstruct him. The novel has been described as a modern version of Atlas Shrugged, the infamous novel written by the philosopher of selfishness, Ayn Rand.
For Jethro Knights, the height of human development is total self-interest and the ability to use any means which will ensure ones own autonomy and immortality. Any concern for others, including other species and future generations, is considered irrational. Knights, a scientific materialist and crude utilitarian sees nature, purely as a resource to be utilized to provide for his needs. In this, he and transhumanism in general, continues the destructive utilitarian tradition of 16th Century philosopher, Francis Bacon.
To regard transhumanists as a lunatic fringe would be a serious mistake. Thinkers such as Katherine Hayles, Philip Mirowski and Australian philosopher, Arran Gare, reveal transhumanism to be the dominant philosophy of our time with links to computer science, scientific management, neo-liberalism, supply-side economics and anti-democratic corporatocracies. It is transhumanist philosophy which is driving the human quest for omnipotence, through for example, the generation of high energy demanding abstract electronic virtual worlds created at the expense of natural systems, such as climate systems.
The problem with transhumanisms ideal development goal, however, is that it is a form of retarded development. It aspires to the ego-centric cognitive level of a three or four year old child and remains there (what psychologists term the pre-operational stage). Rather than a new utopia, it is creating an all too familiar dystopia run by self-centered and self-deluded brats. This has been revealed by a long history of developmental psychology examining stages of moral and consciousness development.
Perhaps the best synopsis and synthesis of this history is provided by the enigmatic philosopher and psychologist, Ken Wilber. He links the perennial philosophies associated with the axial period to the more modern theories of those such as Kohlberg, Loevinger, Maslow, Piaget, Gilligan and Habermas, as well as modern neuroscience. What emerges is a convergent story of what constitutes a good human development process. This is one which involves the integration and transcendence of ego-centrism and the continual de-centering of the self. It involves an expansion of consciousness over time to include larger wholes, from understanding your immediate primary relationships to understanding yourself as one with the universe.
A key component of this story is our relationship with technologies, particularly information technologies. At an early age human beings enter the semiotic realm of information technologies augmenting our abilities to think abstractly and synchronically. This is a condition for the development of our self-consciousness, but one which also has an alienating effect separating us from our worlds and each other. Much of our lives are then spent trying to understand this alienation and the nature of our relationships with everything.
In the holistic process tradition I represent, which has similarities to Buddhist views such as Wilbers, maturity comes through the ability to re-connect. It is the ability to create a coherent narrative out of the fragments of a life and create a sense of wholeness. It is coming to understand that the feelings of separateness we suffer are abstract and that we always were, and are, connected with everything and everyone. One does not transcend nature; one transcends the abstractions which alienate us from it.
Human-generated climate change, therefore, is not the product of super beings but of under-developed ones, also known as transhumanists. The obstructions to effectively dealing with it are being produced by ego-centric three-year-olds living small and fragmented lives and throwing tantrums whenever adults try to impose constraints on their bad behavior. As I said, it is the dream of negative freedom; freedom from constraints such as responsibility for anything other than yourself. But as some of our more mature philosophers have understood as well as any responsible parent, there can be no freedom without suitable constraints, such as a narrow global temperature range suitable for life.
Humanity, therefore, has a choice: do we end our lives as we live them, alienated and dissatisfied, using the resentment this creates to destroy all life in our self-interest, or, do we seek to re-connect to feel at home in our world and universe? Those few mature people left in our society have come to understand their co-dependent nature and the natural limits to human progress. They have learned that what gives life meaning does not generate much greenhouse gas. Our experiment with giving power to children is failing. In order to avoid the worst of climate change, we must put our trust again in the wisdom that only comes with maturity and re-connection.
Featured image by Karlostachys Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.