The Transhumanism of Star Travel and Learning from Earth

Athena Andreadis guest blogging on Sentient Developments 5/29/09 about how the first transhumans braving interstellar space won’t be the rich and beautiful:

…spacefaring enthusiasts acknowledge the enormity of the undertaking they propose, most transhumanists take it as an article of faith that their ideas will be realized soon, though the goalposts keep receding into the future. As more soundbite than proof they invoke Moore’s exponential law, equating stodgy silicon with complex, contrary carbon. However, despite such confident optimism, enhancements will be hellishly difficult to implement. This stems from a fundamental that cannot be short-circuited or evaded: no matter how many experiments are performed on mice or even primates, humans have enough unique characteristics that optimization will require people.Contrary to the usual supposition that the rich will be the first to cross the transhuman threshold, it is virtually certain that the frontline will consist of the desperate and the disenfranchised: the terminally ill, the poor, prisoners and soldiers — the same people who now try new chemotherapy or immunosuppression drugs, donate ova, become surrogate mothers, “agree” to undergo chemical castration or sleep deprivation. Yet another pool of early starfarers will be those whose beliefs require isolation to practice, whether they be Raëlians or fundamentalist monotheists — just as the Puritans had to brave the wilderness and brutal winters of Massachusetts to set up their Shining (though inevitably tarnished) City on the Hill.

So the first generation of humans adjusted to starship living are far likelier to resemble Peter Watts’ marginalized Rifters or Jay Lake’s rabid Armoricans, rather than the universe-striding, empowered citizens of Iain Banks’ Culture. Such methods and outcomes will not reassure anyone, regardless of her/his position on the political spectrum, who considers augmentation hubristic, dehumanizing, or a threat to human identity, equality or morality. The slightly less fraught idea of uploading individuals into (ostensibly) more durable non-carbon frames is not achievable, because minds are inseparable from the neurons that create them. Even if technological advances eventually enable synapse-by synapse reconstructions, the results will be not transfers but copies.

I noticed she takes the same tact that Alastair Reynolds does concerning uploading minds in his “Revelation Space” series.

Which makes sense, because current theories speculate that the original brain would have to be destroyed during the scanning process.

Then a whole new can of worms gets opened concerning copies and the soul.

Trans-Sufiism anyone?

Dreamers of a better future, Unite!

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The land of woo is big business:

Skeptical literature is seldom a hot seller with the exception of fiery books about atheism and the culture wars which tend to dive into the political realm and use science to bolster what’s more of a philosophical case than a purely scientific one. Cranks, on the other hand, sell books by the truckload. Even a skeptical bestseller like Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion which sold over 1.5 million copies, can’t match the estimated 6 million or so copies of The Secret, a book of New Age fluff which declares that if you want something bad enough, reality will change to accommodate your whims. Oh and that’s not counting the 1.5 million DVDs of the same kind of wishful-thinking-in-a-can sold before the book was published and endorsed by the Queen of Woo herself.

And you can see why pseudoscience is so popular. Cranks aren’t limited by facts and figures like skeptics or scientists. They can make up anything to win favor with a crowd. When they’re telling people that their wildest dreams can come true if they close their eyes and think about it hard enough, anyone who dares to stand up, and point out that there’s no evidence for this claim or that reality doesn’t conform to our entitlement complex, seems like a heckler killing everybody’s joyful buzz. The public interested in the kind of stuff skeptics refute on a regular basis doesn’t care about the need for a contrarian opinion. They only care about having their wishes fulfilled, so anyone who tells them otherwise is treated as an undesirable. Even worse, when they tune in and buy the books and DVDs on a regular basis, cranks get even more exposure because their brand of snake oil generates cashflow and keeps ratings high.

Greg Fish in quite a few of his recent posts has been on a one person crusade to smash down the doors of various dogmas and its proponents who plan on taking over the school systems of the country, the government and other areas of influence. Like the media.

I like Greg and I comment on his blog quite often, but I think he’s fighting a losing battle because like most pure scientific empiricists, he gets frustrated by the social dynamic by which most societies operate; a religion (doesn’t matter what kind) and those who use it for control.

A paradigm that has existed for 6000 years.

Hats off to ya for your persistance Greg!

why woo is big business

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For once I understand NASA’s logic concerning developing techniques to find extra-solar, Earth-like planets:

A new technique for finding wet exoplanets got a field test when astronomers pretended to be aliens.

“If you were on another planet, you’d look at Earth and say, ‘That looks like the most interesting planet around that star,’” said Nicolas Cowan, a grad student at the University of Washington and lead author of the study. “Any critter with half a brain can look at Earth and say, ‘That’s the one that looks different.’ The question is how to quantify what it is that makes it look interesting.”

Astronomers used a telescope aboard the Deep Impact spacecraft — which crashed a probe into a comet in 2005 and is on its way to another — to stare at Earth for two separate 24-hour periods. They tracked the changes in light and color that crossed the Earth’s surface as it rotated, and connected them back to continents and oceans. The results will be published in the August issue of Astrophysical Journal.

Though the spacecraft was only 30 million miles away from Earth, light years closer than the nearest extrasolar planet, it was far enough to blur out the distinctive features of the Earth’s surface.

260626main_epoxi_1_hi.60109

Nice job of recycling a spacecraft that finished one mission and using it for another.

Maybe there’s hope after all!

The New Exoplanetology: ‘I Learned By Watching You, Earth’

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