Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Mormon Transhumanist Association

On Saturday 24 July the day finally came- lunch with Mormon Transhumanist Association (MTA) president, Lincoln Cannon!  I've been looking forward to this lunch for a while, having first learned of Lincoln and the MTA when learning about human enhancement in Bioethics a few months ago.  Lincoln and I have commented on each others' blogs and have thought/written about similar subjects.  I anticipated our face-to-face, and was not disappointed!  My two favorite quotes:

-"We're built to have the aesthetics of our posthumanity resonate within us."
-"Mormonism is religious transhumanism."

For an explanation of the basics of transhumanism, see 1) the wikipedia article, 2) the MTA website, and 3) my blog post on the related subject of the ethics of human enhancement. 

We met at Fuddrucker's at noon- Lincoln, me, and my buddy Craig Janis (I invited Craig to sub for my author-friend Jeff Thayne, whose flight was delayed in Chicago).  I will relate the meeting by listing insights, names, and resources.

- Lincoln is a thoughtful, articulate, and friendly person. I was impressed by his framing during conversation, e.g. he'd say "let me answer that with a short response, then a longer response that more explicitly answers your question."  The framing helped make his conversation clear and followable.
- Lincoln majored in Philosophy at BYU, served in south France (as did my brother), has three boys, oldest age 12, and has lived in Orem since he graduated.
- Lincoln is smart and insightful, and sometimes eloquent.  
- 90% of the MTA membership is male.  I really wonder why that is.  When it comes to philosophy, evolution, homosexual issues and the church, religious epistemology, etc. I overwhelmingly encounter the ideas, writings, and activism of men.  In my personal experience, the women I've talked to don't have much trouble understanding these concepts- the issues just don't seem to matter much to them.  On average are women less curious about these issues?  More focused on building social networks than being interested in this stuff?  I'm not sure their lack of interest is a bad thing necessarily, but before my observation of the strong trend, I would've presumed about equal contribution from men and women.  I asked my female friend about this disparity afterward, and she related her experience as a freshman in Philosophy thinking, "this is a bunch of stuff men thought of," and compared men:chick flicks :: women:philosophy.  
- The MTA is the largest sub-organization of the World Transhumanist Association (WTA- now Humanity+) in the US
-  The Follett discourse bent of the LDS faith predisposes it to transhumanism much more than most religions due to its explicit theosis.
-  The New God Argument, a key MTA production, is entirely based on secular/non-religious assumptions (Video, Paper form, Revised Summary of the New God Argument (at Lincoln's blog)).  We spent a lot of time discussing the argument and its implications (e.g. it's likely that an advanced, benevolent civilization exists and created our world).
- Perhaps God is not as physically discrete as I'd thought before (I always pictured Him about 6 feet tall, muscular, mature, and bearded, sitting in a nice chair either at home playing with the kids or in his Kolob office, occasionally taking business trips to appear to boy prophets.  Joseph Smith: "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted Man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens...I say, if you were to see him to-day, you would see him like a man in form -- like yourselves, in all the person, image, and very form as a man....").  D&C 88:45-49, however, seems to indicate that perhaps some planetary bodies are part of God- and thus, perhaps, part of His anatomy.  By way of comparison, as we see our computers going from warehouse size to ipod size to integrateable with our bodies (e.g. cochlear implants, brain devices that stimulate portions of the brain to put Alzheimer's in abeyance, pacemakers) it is not difficult to imagine a more seamless human consciousness network: instead of an independent Internet/google/wikipedia, the sum of all human knowledge is integrated- thus, as a people rather than as individuals we are Gods in embryo, and collectively can eventually attain the level of functionality of God (omnipotence and omniscience).  Craig noted that none of us acquire Godhood independently (instead, each requires a spouse, and I would add Christ as well), so it's not a big stretch to presume that deification is communitarian. 
- It's both difficult to tell and not very useful to resolve the question of whether this world is "real" or a "simulation."  Whether it was contrived or created doesn't seem to matter as much as whether it experientially feels "real."  The brain can't discriminate between real and virtual (a common fault of internalism), which to me has two implications: 1) despite His omniscience and overcoming of most orders of ignorance, God would be unable to discern whether He is living out another's computation/simulation, and 2) visions of God or His visitations needn't be "actual" as long as they are legitimate.  Whether God physically appears or whether He simply plugs your optic nerve USB into the Celestial Network real-time vid of God's office matters very little.  Lincoln noted the fantasy games we create on computers, noting that software is physical and material, just as our thoughts are physical and material, yet both constitute created worlds and both are integrated into the anatomy of its platform (the computer or our brains, respectively).  Similarly, this world may very literally be part of God's anatomy. 
- Mormons believe in transhumanism at least in that they believe in a universal resurrection resulting in immortality (and for most, enhanced capacities for travel, cognition, health, and other functions).   A resurrected state is a posthuman state- and seeking to obtain such an advanced state is a righteous goal. 

 (I note affiliations where known)
- Don Bradley
- Steven Peck (my bioethics professor, who is helping to marry organic evolution and LDS theology)
- Dennis Rasmussen (BYU philosophy faculty)
- Jim Faulkner (BYU philosophy faculty)
- Nick Bostrum (well-known transhumanist)
- Steven Pinker (author of History of Violence)
- Joseph West (Lincoln's friend and one of the 14 founders of the MTA)
- James Hughes
- Rob Lauer (Reformed Mormonism fellow)

- Lincoln's blog
- The Journal of Evolution and Technology (JET)
- H+ magazine
- H+ blog
- H+ website
- By Common Consent, a well-known LDS blog
- Times and Seasons, a well-known LDS blog
- Feminist Mormon Housewives, a well-known LDS blog
- MTA's blog list
- Reformed Mormonism homepage
- MTA>about>feeds
- Mormon Mentality blog
- Sunstone blog
- Giulio Prisco blog
 -Steven Peck blog
- Bruce Webster blog
- Lloyd Ericson blog
- Society of Mormon Philosophy and Theology homepage
- Transvision, a transhumanist conference
- Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
- Lincoln's recommended videos (4)

I joined the MTA on 26 July, 2010, declaring my agreement with the Transhumanist Declaration and the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation.  


  1. Great synopsis of our discussion. I'm glad you took such great notes, it'll make it easier when I sit down and try to remember all this for my wife's benefit... :)

  2. Brad and Craig, thanks for the enjoyable discussion.

  3. . . . oh, and two name corrections:

    Don Bradley
    Rob Lauer

  4. Very thought-provoking, Brad. One question (for either you or Lincoln) - is there a consensus in the transhumanist community regarding the population growth which will occur if technology moves us to the point of immortality, or even an increase of lifespan to 200 or 300 years? At some point won't some kind of population control be required? I see some definite moral, ethical, and spiritual implications if that's the case.

  5. Shawn, I just commented on one of your posts! The blog looks a bit dusty. ;) To answer your question, I don't know of any such consensus. Now to my speculation. As to the effects of "immortal" technology, there might indeed be an increase or decrease of the need for population control. There are always and have always been spiritual, ethical, and moral implications to population control (e.g. the Pill and prohibiting same-sex marriage on the constricting side, or expanding health care/medicine or agricultural technology in developing nations on the contracting side). Luckily we have a quasi-immortal population to learn from, namely the long-lived elves of Middle Earth. Okay, so that's a joke. I haven't yet gotten far in this analysis- but you raise an important consideration.

  6. Well, if you need somebody to interview Cate Blanchett about her secret, I'll volunteer!

    And I totally forgot about that blog I made. I should start it up again.


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