lundi 1 août 2011


From an article on controlling human evolution (very much in line with the book I'm reading -- _The Subtle Knife_ by Phillip Pullman) in More Intelligent Life Magazine (

"One of the milder transhumanist ideas is to speed up the brain. This would be like putting a faster processor in a computer to improve its performance. But a potential byproduct of packing in more information per second would be to slow down the perceived passage of time. This is the way it is for children: every stimulus is new, so each minute is more jam-packed with information, which makes it feel like time is just dragging by. If your mind is working ten-times faster, then you are aware of ten-times more information in the moment, so time seems to pass ten-times slower."

"But wouldn't uploading flesh-and-blood humans into synthetic virtual worlds, where they would be turned into super intelligent fast-thinkers, transform us into completely different creatures? Would homo sapiens be replaced by homo apparatus? Bostrom is unconcerned. He reminds me that humans already undergo a 'profound' transition when we age from childhood to adulthood. 'We have vastly greater capacities as adults than as children,' he explains. 'Our whole mental lives are different, our preoccupations.' Yet we don't view it as bad for a child to grow up, so perhaps we're more open to radical transformations than we might believe."

One of the main philosophical questions explored in Pullman's His Dark Materials series (_The Subtle Knife_ is the second book in the trilogy) is the difference between innocence and experience: mainly children's innocence and adults' experience. He has claimed that religion attempts to keep children innocent at the expense of experience and knowledge. Pullman's main inspiration for the Dark Materials series includes the famous Walt Whitman poem Songs of Innocence and Experience as well as an essay by Heinrich von Kleist which also explored the theme of innocence and experience. According to Pullman, Kleist's essay is very optimistic: "since we cannot dwell forever in the paradise of childhood, we have to go forward, through the disappointments and compromises and betrayals of experience, towards the fully conscious kind of grace that we call wisdom. Innocence is not wise, and wisdom cannot be innocent."

More from the MIL mag article: "[...] [P]erhaps we are too ready to dismiss innovations such as superintelligence as distant possibilities. We may also be too quick to underestimate the pharmaceutical and genetic technologies that could impact who and what we are in the nearer future. For that reason, it is worrying that Bostrom admits that transhumanists haven't given much thought to the question of what sorts of modifications would simply enhance us and which would be so transformative as to, in effect, destroy humanity as we know it and create a new transhumanity in its place."

This article also made me think of a discussion I had with my father this weekend, while kayaking on the Rideau River. He was worried about immigrants who bring their own values and cultural ethics to our country, and how they will eventually outnumber us and OUR French-Canadian culture will disappear altogether. I was more of the "change is good" mentality before, but his questions did make me think. What makes us who we are? How much exposure to other cultures will simply enhance us, and how much will be so transformative as to destroy our culture and create a new one in its place? Is a new culture such a bad thing?

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