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Old 12-30-2017, 10:33 AM   #51
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Default Re: The best Transhuman scii-fi novels?

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They have good reasons...from the POV of a race of god-like supermen. From a mortal POV, the Arisians could easily look demonic.
In an older form, this is the problem of theodicy, or "justifying the ways of God to man." Voltaire ruthlessly satirized Leibnitz by having Dr. Pangloss go about a world willed with disasters and horror saying "All is for the best in this best of all possible world"; but there is a point behind that saying—because it's not an issue only of what is possible by itself, but of what set of things are all possible jointly, or of compossibility. Pain is horrible, but if you have creatures that can't feel pain they'll destroy themselves by not trying to escape harmful conditions, for one example.

Or as the old joke has it, "The optimist believes that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears that this is so."

A creator God will do as a being whose knowledge is superior to that of human beings, and whose ethical judgments can properly supersede theirs. The same paradoxes arise from the concept.
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Old 12-30-2017, 10:40 AM   #52
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Then the Time Traveler goes further forward, to a time when Man and his degenerate descendants are long gone and the world is dying. None of it ever mattered, no matter what heights Man reached before the decline began, it's all as it if never happened. It never mattered.
But "it never mattered" is perfectly consistent with transhumanism. In fact you could have the test of transhumanity be the ability to completely accept the mortality, not merely of oneself, but of one's kind or indeed of sapience as such, the "it never mattered," and still go on playing the game with total commitment. Sort of like the way Nietzsche makes the Eternal Recurrence a test of superhumanity.

(In a way, Olaf Stapledon is pointing in that direction in Star Maker, though the only solution he can come up with is a sort of theism.)
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Old 12-30-2017, 10:45 AM   #53
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But "'x' was necessary because otherwise 'y' would have happened" is, once again, hinging on the assumption that the transhuman in question will be of the utilitarian/consequentialist stance.
Not necessarily. Virtue ethics, for example, typically includes prudence as one of the virtues, and indeed some virtue ethicists (Thomas Aquinas is one) make it the summation of all the virtues. But prudence is the ability to make judgments about x and y in the fashion you describe, and to act according to those judgments—but not in the formulaic, mathematical way that "utilitarianism" suggests, because in the real world we hardly ever have sufficient information to perform such calculations. (And also, virtue ethics typically is about "will this lead to my own happiness?" rather than about "the greatest good of the greatest number.")
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Old 12-30-2017, 09:07 PM   #54
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Default Re: The best Transhuman scii-fi novels?

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But "it never mattered" is perfectly consistent with transhumanism. In fact you could have the test of transhumanity be the ability to completely accept the mortality, not merely of oneself, but of one's kind or indeed of sapience as such, the "it never mattered," and still go on playing the game with total commitment. Sort of like the way Nietzsche makes the Eternal Recurrence a test of superhumanity.

(In a way, Olaf Stapledon is pointing in that direction in Star Maker, though the only solution he can come up with is a sort of theism.)
I never understood that view. Just because everything I am and every effect from my actions will eventually disappear from the universe has no meaning to me or those I affect. Who cares that humanity will eventually die when you punch me in the face?
It matters to me.
It seems like it takes an enormous ego to ever consider one's actions permanent across the light years and megayears.
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Old 12-31-2017, 02:51 AM   #55
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It can be argued that there are individuals whose actions did just that.
Christ, Mohammad, Buda. Did they have enormous egos or a message that resonates with people - is religion memetic warfare?

Which brings me back to books about transhumanism

Frank Herbert's WorShip series which begins with Destination Void.
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Old 12-31-2017, 12:34 PM   #56
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But "it never mattered" is perfectly consistent with transhumanism.
In theory, yes. In practice, not so much.

That is, when you read TH fiction and essays and writings, something interesting emerges when you read closely. They generally adhere to a mechanistic view, even if they don't assume that our current understanding of physics is necessarily the final one. That is, a transhumanist essayist might grant that, say, FTL might someday happen because our understanding of physics is wrong, just as Daltonian atomic theory was wrong, but he still posits that the universe is understandable and mechanistic and is only acknowledging the possibility of human error.

Even more, they usually assert the validity of conventional Darwinism.

But as you read you begin to sense another view, probably not even consciously held by the writer, that is quite different. It's the 19C view of 'evolutionary progress', of rising 'higher'. Along with it is a notion of a puirpose to the whole busiess, even if that purpose is simply maximizing individual agency and freedom.

'Morphological freedom' is just as much an ideological ideal as any other such goal, and a lot of transhumanists assert the pointlessness of existence while at the same positing such ideals as standards.

When you read and listen closely, transhumanism starts to read and sound like a lot of previous social movements, same patterns, same inherited reactions and tropes, many of them with religious roots. I'm pretty sure this is almost entirely unconscious on the part of the proponents.

In that sense, it shares a lot with social movements like theoretical communism, feminism, nationalism, technocracy, etc. The details vary, but the underlying core is there.

There's a reason why many Singularity enthusiasts are sometimes mocked by critics as expecting 'the Rapture of the geeks', and it's not just mockery.

Note how much TH speculation is actually posited on physics developments so far out beyond our own knowledge that they are little more than WAGs about magic. Note how we see essays about intelligence surviving as maybe dark-matter structures after the last star dies, or things along that order. Maybe, just maybe, maybe we don't have to die...maybe it's not all futile...

To return to the source text, yeah, in theory the future the Time Traveler sees is completely consistent with the transhumanist worldview (or at least the worldview of transhumanist philosophy, as opposed to the way a true transhuman would see it, which we can only guess at). On paper, it's fine.

But the emotional gut-level reaction is different. From a purely mechanistic, Darwinist perspective, the Morlocks and Eloi are just as 'valid' a development of evolution as god-like immortals. But very few transhumanists could really view that prospect with indifference. Wells could not. I very strongly suspect we're seeing the result of internal conflicts about his own philosophies playing out in The Time Machine.
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Old 12-31-2017, 12:44 PM   #57
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It can be argued that there are individuals whose actions did just that.
Christ, Mohammad, Buda. Did they have enormous egos or a message that resonates with people - is religion memetic warfare?

Which brings me back to books about transhumanism

Frank Herbert's WorShip series which begins with Destination Void.
The SF writer Robert Sawyer did novels around transhumanist themes. One that sticks in my mind, for both good and bad reasons, is called Starplex.

The story has several good elements, but there's also a strain of wishful thinking running through that (IMHO) runs through transhumanism in general, the same 'asserting mechanism while 'feeling' progress' theme. He's also sloppy with his physics in the areas that are explicitly supposed to be the same as the physics we know.

That is, he posits things like FTL, but conservation of energy is supposedly in force, and he shows the heroes using energy levels right of 'Doc' Smith without explaining anything about how, or why it doesn't change anything else. I don't know if he didn't know how to get around it, or didn't think about it.

(At one point, the heroes use their spacecraft to apply meaningful accelerations to a planet-sized mass. At no other point in the story is there any hint of that level of potential, and several contrary indications.)

Poul Anderson sometimes plays with transhumanist themes, usually far less sentimentally than Sawyer.

Arguably, some of Larry Niven's Known Space stuff touches on transhumanism, though in peculiar ways. For ex, the Pak Protectors are debatably transhuman, though you could also argue that they avert transhumanism, since they are in fact just mature humans.
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Old 12-31-2017, 05:13 PM   #58
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Poul Anderson sometimes plays with transhumanist themes, usually far less sentimentally than Sawyer.
For example, the first story about brain/computer interfacing that I read, back in the mid-sixties, was Anderson's "Kings Who Die." This wasn't a favorable story about upgrading, though it wasn't a favorable story about the unimproved human state, either; it could best be described as tragic.

An interesting correlation might be made of the increased prevalence of transhumanist themes in science fiction and the move away from taking psionics seriously as a scientific hypothesis, which was another mode of envisioning "advanced" mentalities.
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Old 12-31-2017, 10:02 PM   #59
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For example, the first story about brain/computer interfacing that I read, back in the mid-sixties, was Anderson's "Kings Who Die." This wasn't a favorable story about upgrading, though it wasn't a favorable story about the unimproved human state, either; it could best be described as tragic.

An interesting correlation might be made of the increased prevalence of transhumanist themes in science fiction and the move away from taking psionics seriously as a scientific hypothesis, which was another mode of envisioning "advanced" mentalities.
Good point! I had not thought about that, but it fits both the time line and the philosophical themes, and the underlying commonality with past themes.

Here's an area of overlap: 'transcendence'. This shows up in transhuman speculation, esp. when talking about some versions of the Vingean Singularity. But it's an old trope in SF.

For ex, in 'Doc' Smith's Lensman stories, the transhuman Arisians arose naturally, and it's specifically said that they did so by natural evolution. Smith mentions that the Arisians passed through 'the ages of stone, bronze, iron, steel, and electricity', and on through the atomic age and the psionic age and on to transcendence. It's treated as a natural progression, intelligent races passing up the ladder like a child growing toward maturity.

This was a very, very common way of portraying evolution in SF in the first half of the 20C, but it's not Darwinism.

The interesting thing is that the transhumanists retain much of that emotional thinking while asserting Darwinism intellectually. In Banks' Culture stories, there is 'sublimation'. In Brin's second Uplift trilogy, there are the Transcendentals and the Embrace of Tides.

In 2001, of course, we have the Firstborn, who may be the epitome of this SFnal concept. They transcended by their own intentional efforts, right out of transhumanist speculation, first cyborgization, then later transferring the consciousness to purely machine bodies, then into what amount to beings of spirit.

There was a GURPS article (3e based) years ago about tech levels beyond TL16 (which was the old top of the canon scale) that culminated IIRC at TL20 and 'transcendence' to beings of pure thought.

Now the ironic thing is that there's no scientific reason to think that transcendence is even a meaningful concept. There's no evidence against it, but none for, either. There's not even any positive reason to think there might be such a thing, if you're thinking mechanistically. Yet the idea runs all through transhumanist writings and speculation and fiction.

(Of course, mechanistic Darwinism can't explain consciousness yet, either.)

Which brings us back to the Time Machine. Wells appears to have looked into his own philosophy and reached a somewhat similar conclusion, or at least he found it believable enough to construct a story around it that became one of the seminal classics of SF.

(While at the same time leaving lots of doubt about possible interpretations, the way Wells wrote the story leaves many possible alternative, more hopeful hypotheses that are completely consistent with the canon. Wells really was one of the best SF writers ever, in terms of his talent as a writer.)
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Old 01-01-2018, 03:46 AM   #60
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Default Re: The best Transhuman scii-fi novels?

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Not necessarily. Virtue ethics, for example, typically includes prudence as one of the virtues, and indeed some virtue ethicists (Thomas Aquinas is one) make it the summation of all the virtues. But prudence is the ability to make judgments about x and y in the fashion you describe, and to act according to those judgments—but not in the formulaic, mathematical way that "utilitarianism" suggests, because in the real world we hardly ever have sufficient information to perform such calculations. (And also, virtue ethics typically is about "will this lead to my own happiness?" rather than about "the greatest good of the greatest number.")
Of course, description of ethical systems are not binary dichotomies, and what you describe seems consistent with my mention of the 'utilitarian/consequentialist stance' in the quoted post. Specific examples of action-evaluation systems can have consequence-evaluating postulates -
they're not ideal platonic forms with zero additives.

Then again, my grasp on virtue ethics is far from the firmness I'd like it to have, to the point that to me Buddhism looked like a deontology-leaning, not a virtue-leaning religion, during my first attempts to examine its texts.
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