Transhumanist views: common nonsense
October 28, 2013 | James Kohl
Scientific progress has made it become increasingly more important for evolutionary theorists to learn about the basic principles of biology and levels of biological organization that are required to epigenetically link sensory input to effects on hormones that affect human behavior. See for example: An experimental test on the probability of extinction of new genetic variants. The experimental test refuted the concept of mutation-initiated natural selection.
From the abstract: “In 1927, J.B.S. Haldane reasoned that the probability of fixation of new beneficial alleles is twice their fitness effect. This result, later generalized by M. Kimura, has since become the cornerstone of modern population genetics.”
But wait, in one report on this experiment, we were told: “To our knowledge, this is the first time anyone was able to directly test Haldane’s theory. We have proved it correct for the initial stages, when a new allele appears in a population. But our results show that further empirical work and more theoretical models are required to accurately predict the fate of that allele over long time spans.” Theorists have traditionally predicted that the fate of alleles over long time spans was responsible for mutation-driven evolution.
Here’s the problem. The cornerstone of modern population genetics was put into place without experimental evidence that might otherwise enable scientists to build upon a scientific foundation and develop testable hypotheses that could facilitate scientific progress. Instead, 75 years of theoretical nonsense based only on Haldane’s reasoning has been held up by many theorists as if it were a factual representation of biologically-based cause and effect.
The theme continues from Haldane’s experimentally unsupported ideas about mutation-initiated natural selection to the dogmatic and downright nasty comments of Reese Jones, who claims a background in biophysics and seemingly has somehow attached himself to the Singularity. I did not surprise me to see mention of Haldane’s “futurist speculations” in the context of the transhumanist views touted by Reese Jones. Instead, Haldane’s speculations appear to have led to even more nonsense as they moved from ridiculous theory into the context of philosophy. See, for example:
Excerpt 1: Transhumanist views have a long history, although the contemporary transhumanist movement is a product of twentieth-century advances in scientific understanding and technological capability. Precursors can be found, for example, in the futurist speculations of J B S Haldane and J D Bernal in the 1920s. Haldane’s Daedalus; or, Science and the Future (1924) and Bernal’s The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1929) envisage future societies that employ advanced science to alter human traits and direct our future evolution as a species. In the following decades, these writings were highly influential on science-fiction authors…”
Excerpt 2: Transhumanists foresee a time when technological interventions in the capacities of the human body and mind will lead to extreme alterations in our capacities.
Excerpt 3: An extreme variation on this idea is that we might upload our personalities into advanced and highly durable computer hardware, interfacing with the world in complex ways.
Excerpt 4: Most transhumanists would emphatically deny that transhumanism is a religious system, and they can make a strong case for that position.
Excerpt 5: At the same time, there is, indeed, something rather apocalyptic and cultish about at least some transhumanist activity and writing, particularly when we are promised a rapid transition to vastly extended life spans and a post-scarcity economy. One suggestion frequently presented in the transhumanist literature is that this will happen via something called the Singularity, a near-future event involving sudden and unprecedented technological advances. The idea is that the exponential curve of technological improvement over time is approaching a point where it will go almost vertical, leaving what lies on the other side radically beyond human prediction.
Excerpt 6: ‘Singularitarian’ ideas are rejected by many transhumanists who have less grandiose ambitions for the human future.
Excerpt 7: …no one has ever been imprisoned, sterilised, starved, or burned to do in the name of transhumanism; nonetheless, there is a risk of transhumanism developing into something dogmatic, illiberal, even downright nasty.
Transhumanism, as touted by people like Reese Jones who believe in the Singularity (e.g., that we might upload our personalities into advanced and highly durable computer hardware) are among the most dogmatic and downright nasty folks I have encountered. None of the subscribers to Jones’ facebook page have attempted to enter discussion on the topic “Transition from Inorganic to Organic Life was Based on Information, Not Chemistry.” Many seem angry that I would even dare to question their belief in something that I consider to be the epitome of ridiculousness. Clearly, it takes all kinds… and transhumanist proponents of the Singularity represent the worst of the kinds that hinder scientific progress.