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Old 12-24-2017, 10:02 PM   #41
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Default Re: The best Transhuman scii-fi novels?

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I'm baffled at that opinion. The Time Machine does propose that human nature can be changed, but (a) the change takes place through natural selection rather than intelligent design and (b) it is not an enhancement but the loss of human capabilities. And The Island of Dr. Moreau is a Swiftian satire that says that "humanity" has not truly been attained even in humans: that we are half-humanized animals enslaved to a code of law imposed on us by pain and terror.
In some ways, you could characterize The Time Machine as an anti-transhumanist work. There's a distinct edge of despair in it. It's also a sort of deconstruction of the popular late 19th/early 20th century idea of the 'evolving toward ever higher levels'. Wells applies Darwinian logic to that and concludes that it makes no sense, projecting instead the degeneration of the human race when circumstances make sapience and high personal capacity become maladaptations.

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.
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Old 12-25-2017, 01:27 AM   #42
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Default Re: The best Transhuman scii-fi novels?

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Understand them, yes. The question would be less their 'ethics' than their 'morals'. There's a difference.

The truly unnerving aspect of genuine supermen would be that they might apply the same morals we believe in accordance with the superior perceptions to produce results that might be objectively right, but that we would find horrifying.

Frank Herbert, in a letter to John Campbell, once used the example of a human and a horse. A horse might be too badly hurt to recover, all that lies ahead of him is a slow, painful death, so the human mercifully puts a bullet in him now to make it quick. (Or something on those lines, it's been a long time since I read it.)

Herbert's point was that the horse, if it could grasp what was being decided, would almost surely disagree with the decision, esp. if it could not comprehend why there was no hope of survival or improvement. The human might well be right about the suffering involved, but the horse can't comprehend that, all it knows (to the degree it knows anything) is that it's being killed by its master.

The same dynamic might well apply to the interactions of true supermen and men. It's hard to portray believably (because supermen are hard to portray believably), but this does show up in fiction here and there. I mentioned Frank Herbert, this dynamic animates the Dune stories at a deep level, especially with the character of Leto Atreides the Second. He's a true superman, and his actions are intended for the best interest of the human race in general, and he may well be entirely right about that. He's still a horror from the basic human POV in many ways.

Herbert even has Leto II comment at one point that beings like himself (there have been others, he's just the greatest of them) have never much cared whether mortals agree with the decisions they make about them or for them, because they know better than we do what is best.

Insufferably arrogant? Yes....except that Leto is very probably right. He really is a superman.

Another example is the Arisians from the old Lensman space operas, who are far greater supermen. They are sort of benevolent. They have enough power to do just about anything, by human standards. But they can, and will, sit back and let billions be tortured or die, nations fall, worlds burn, in service of a larger long term good. They sat back let world-wrecking nuclear wars devastate Earth at least twice. They let a race of psychic vampires torture uncounted Velantians to death, generation after generation after generation. They sat back and let the bad guys cause everything from the Holocaust to Pol Pot to Nero to interplanetary wars. Multiply that by millions of worlds all over two galaxies.

They have good reasons...from the POV of a race of god-like supermen. From a mortal POV, the Arisians could easily look demonic.
That's one way to do it, but not the only one. There's a unifying trend among your examples: transhuman characters applying utilitarian principles. But they could as well be following less reductionist principles, such as virtue ethics, some flavour of deontology, care ethics or something more exotic.
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Old 12-25-2017, 02:22 AM   #43
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Default Re: The best Transhuman scii-fi novels?

Most such transhuman stories make inhuman = inhumane. I don't see that as a necessary outcome. Likely with anything progressing from an evolved state such humans and our creations, but not absolutely certain.
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Old 12-27-2017, 08:56 PM   #44
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That's one way to do it, but not the only one. There's a unifying trend among your examples: transhuman characters applying utilitarian principles. But they could as well be following less reductionist principles, such as virtue ethics, some flavour of deontology, care ethics or something more exotic.
Yeah, but in each case, the utilitarianism was a case of the transhuman applying those principles in pursuit of what he/they perceived as the least bad option, the one that involved the least suffering overall, or permitted the human race (and in the case of the Arisians, other races) to survive long term.

In each case, the transhuman power was almost surely correct in this evaluation. So you could argue that they were also applying moral ethics.

But from the POV of the Atlanteans, or the Velantians, or any of countless other races and peoples, the Arisians look less benevolent.

Ditto the subjects of the God-Emperor Leto II, who reigned over a fairly restrictive empire for thousands of years. He was trying to prevent the eventual extinction of the human race, in the near-term historically, though still thousands of years away. But he conquered whole worlds, wiped out entire nations, and enforced a medieval-level life on the commoners for millennia.

Leto was not simply a pragmatist, he was genuinely trying to prevent extinction by the least bad route available, but that 'least bad' route was pretty harshly bad from the POV of a mortal.

My point, though, is that from the POV of the mortal man, it can be very, very hard to tell the difference between a transhuman acting for the greater good and a transhuman being a monster. The more 'transhuman' the transhuman is, the harder it is to tell the difference. A creature who is just moderately more than human is one thing, but the bigger the gap the harder it is to tell.
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Old 12-28-2017, 01:51 AM   #45
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Default Re: The best Transhuman scii-fi novels?

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My point, though, is that from the POV of the mortal man, it can be very, very hard to tell the difference between a transhuman acting for the greater good and a transhuman being a monster. The more 'transhuman' the transhuman is, the harder it is to tell the difference. A creature who is just moderately more than human is one thing, but the bigger the gap the harder it is to tell.
I have an impression that it's not the level of transhumanness that makes it hard to tell the difference. Even for regular humans, usually the way to tell the difference is to wait a century and apply the 20/20 hindsight, then claim it was obvious all along. It seems like 'this is for a good cause' is the main excuse used when justifying monstrous actions.
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Old 12-28-2017, 03:11 AM   #46
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Default Re: The best Transhuman scii-fi novels?

Virtually no human in history believed they were doing evil.
"You just don't understand" is always their cry when stopped.
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Old 12-29-2017, 07:51 PM   #47
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I have an impression that it's not the level of transhumanness that makes it hard to tell the difference. Even for regular humans, usually the way to tell the difference is to wait a century and apply the 20/20 hindsight, then claim it was obvious all along. It seems like 'this is for a good cause' is the main excuse used when justifying monstrous actions.
Yeah, but when it's a high-level transhuman doing the deciding, waiting won't necessarily make the issue any clearer. If the transhuman says, "You see, 'x' was necessary because otherwise 'y' would have happened.", the human in question can't test the premise if he's inherently incapable of understanding the connections, because he either lacks the necessary perceptions or just isn't smart enough. He has to take the transhuman's word for it, possibly forever.

That's the unnerving part.
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Old 12-29-2017, 10:15 PM   #48
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Default Re: The best Transhuman scii-fi novels?

Even if they accept that superhuman minds exist and can predict such things, transhuman demigods could always be lying.
And honesty is not generally proved with displays of force or intelligence.
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Old 12-29-2017, 11:40 PM   #49
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Even if they accept that superhuman minds exist and can predict such things, transhuman demigods could always be lying.
And honesty is not generally proved with displays of force or intelligence.
Exactly. There's no way for the mortals in question to know.
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Old 12-30-2017, 08:59 AM   #50
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Default Re: The best Transhuman scii-fi novels?

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Yeah, but when it's a high-level transhuman doing the deciding, waiting won't necessarily make the issue any clearer. If the transhuman says, "You see, 'x' was necessary because otherwise 'y' would have happened.", the human in question can't test the premise if he's inherently incapable of understanding the connections, because he either lacks the necessary perceptions or just isn't smart enough. He has to take the transhuman's word for it, possibly forever.

That's the unnerving part.
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. This is a stance that can be very opaque to others, as evidenced as early as Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger (at least that's the earliest example I can name). It's a system of morals and/or ethics that grows in complexity with the wielder, and is notorious for not scaling down easily with intelligence.

So it's not that transhuman moralities are necessarily in comprehensible, but rather that in the prominent examples of incomprehensibility, the authors have deliberately picked a system of ethics that produces wildly different results depending on the intelligence level of the wielder, and that is very opaque to lower intelligence levels, since it relies so heavily on calculations and predictive ability . . . and has a helping of "the outcome will change if the targets of an influence understand how they're being influenced, so I'll deliberately keep them in the dark".
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