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- "Ethics is the study of morality, of what is "good" or "right".
- In transhumanism, a behavior can be good or right in 2 different ways:
- good for one transhuman: it helps it survive
- good for all transhumans: the behavior is adopted by all transhumans. This behavior must respect the Ethic of Reciprocity
- This definition thus depends on the result of the behavior, which cannot be predicted perfectly. So the morality of an act cannot only be determined approximately."
- "A small, but significant, minority in the body modification community sees body modification as the first steps in transhumanism. The connection is easy to see: in casting off the genetically-mandated exterior form of a standard human, we are breaking our minds of the belief that a human must look a certain way. Once the body of a human is modifiable for aesthetic reasons not tied to spirituality or tradition, it is possible to begin to modify that body in hopes of improving it.
- Beyond the abstract connection, there are very concrete connections. The aspect of transhumanism generally seen as most immediately viable is the the merging man and machine — indeed, it is so widely seen as viable, that dozens of major Hollywood films have been made about it, and the word "cyborg" is a household word. The most immediately visible way of merging man and machine is to simply implant useful machines into the human body."
- "The freedom of choice extends beyond reproduction. Transhumanists support body modification of any kind as a right. At the moment we have tattoos, piercings, and oft-maligned cosmetic surgery. One day we might have gene therapy, bionics, grafts, implants, and other technologies, and it is the individual's right to control their body as they see fit. This is also known as "morphological freedom." The transgendered are unknowing allies of the transhumanist movement."
- "Democratic Transhumanism 2.0": "Second, technology can help us transcend some of the fundamental causes of inequalities of power. Although we will never eliminate inequalities of intelligence and knowledge, the day is not far off when all humans can be guaranteed sufficient intelligence to function as active citizens. One of the most important progressive demands will be to ensure universal access to genetic choice technologies which permit parents to guarantee their children biological capacities equal to those of other children. Technologically assisted birth, eventually involving artificial wombs, will free women from being necessary, vulnerable vessels for the next generation. Morphological freedom, the ability to change one’s body, including one’s abilities, weight, gender and racial characteristics, will reduce body-based oppressions (disability, fat, gender and race) to aesthetic prejudices."
- Future human forms "When it comes to non-utilitarian modifications, there are a number of potential avenues. One idea is the "perfection" of the human body, which is an idea explored by Natasha Vita-More (and to a lesser degree by pop icons like Michael Jackson, Cher, David Bowie, etc). Others alter or utilize their bodies to make artistic statements, like Orlan or Stelarc. And still others are interested in non-conformism and self-actualization, which leads to radical body modification in the form of tattoos, piercings, gender change, etc. I also know of a person who suffers from a kind of bodily dysmorphia where she believes that she is a cybernetic creature born into a biological body; she feels "wrong" much like a transgendered person feels like they're in the wrong body, and she eagerly awaits the opportunity to become a mechanical/synthetic being. Some prospective body modifiers speculate about transgenic modifications (horns, tails, glow-in-the-dark skin and hair, etc). Others want to become another organism altogether (i.e. dolphins).
- What's unknown at this point is how much of this will/can be done in the real world, and how much of this can be achieved virtually in the form of simulations and/or online avatars.
- Taken further, body modification and transhumanism will ultimately result in human speciation. Different people will follow different paths, all converging from a common human ancestry. Writer Greg Egan speculates about this in his book Diaspora, which involves posthumans of different sorts: genetically modified surface dwellers, uploaded minds living in supercomputers, cyborgs, deliberately devolved primitive hominids, and so on. I believe Egan is largely correct."
Translation of the talk by Igor Vladimirovich Vishev (from Russian into English) for the film by Immortality Institute.
Unedited, feel free to fix errors.
- "I hold a deep belief that today the achievement of practical immortality becomes a topical issue, because at last there is a real scientific basic for achieving it.
- The topicality of this issue is highlighted by the establishment of the Immortality Institute in 2002 in Alabama, United States. This is a very pleasant event.
- But I'd like to note that other countries have reasons to be proud of their contributions to the cause of immortality as well. The problem of immortality is being developed for more than 150 years by Russian philosophers.
- The developments were pursued in three main directions that I'd like to introduce to the international audience.
- The first great Russian thinker that we need to mention is Nikolai Fedorovitch Fedorov who has developed the "Philosophy of the Common Cause". Recently the 100-year anniversary of his death was honoured in December 2003. Fedorov was the first to describe death as the result of spontaneous natural evolution. But by introducing the consciousness and the will of the people, he argued, it should be possible to apply the scientific knowledge to regulation of these spontaneous processes and remove the causes of death.
- Moreover, he argued that we should revive the generations already dead, seeing this as our filial duty to our ancestors. He challenged death not only in the future and the present, but also in the past. No one before has offered such a radical view on death. Unfortunately, Fedorov paid homage to the Russian monarchy and the Orthodox church, which did not win him many supporters. People were thus compelled ignore Fedorov's ideas alltogether and to seek other approaches to conquering death.
- The second important direction in the development of immortalistic ideas was the Russian biocosmist movement. Biocosmists strived to expand the human freedom. One facet of their worldview was immortalism, as an attempt to eliminate the temporal localism of humans. Another facet was the elimination of spatial localism - escaping the confines of Earth and establishing interplanetary travel. Immortalism and interplanetarism were two main ideas of biocosmists.
- Some of the most interesting members of the biocosmism movement were Alexander Ogienko, who published under the pseudonym "Svyatogor", a poet Alexander Yaroslavsky, and many other artist.
- The third direction was represented by the famous Russian writer Alexey (Maximovich) Gorky. Even in his early works he showed his aversion to death and the interest in ways to defeat it. Particularly interesting is the lecture he gave in 1920 titled "On Knowledge", where he argued that in several centuries people will be able to defeat death. He has held to this belief throughout his life. In 1932 he took the initiative in creating the All-union Institute of Experimental Medicine, with a stated goal of studying the human organism, its ageing and then radically extending the human life and avoiding death, bringing to reality the personal human immortality.
- Unfortunately the political climate both in Russia and in the world prevented these noble and heroic aspirations from being realised at that time. That's why the return to these ideas was delayed in Russia until the 1970s. This new wave was brought by Vasilyi Kuprevitch, the President of the Belorussian Academy of Sciences, who posed the challenge of defeating the ageing and ultimately death. Another prominent scientist was Lev Komarov, a biologist working in the Institute of General Genetics. He organised two symposiums - in 1978 and 1980 - with the topic of "Artificial Extention of Human Life".
- At that time there was an International Association for Artificial Extension of Specific Lifespan of Humans. The association was headed by Linus Pauling, the winner of two Nobel Prizes. Lev Komarov was one of the vice-presidents of the association and tried to develop these ideas in Soviet Union.
- I'd like to note that I personall believe that traditional methods, such as diets, physical culture, gymnastics, yoga, etc. are insufficient to expand the limits of human lifespan. They can extend the life of an individual within these limits, but to expand and ultimately remove them we need other, more advanced approaches.
- It follows that there are two important approaches that must be taken. One is to allow the person to use his natural potential for healthy lifespan. The second approach is to use various artificial techniques for extending the lifespan. This should probably include genetic technologies, made possible by the Human Genome project and the progress in proteomics - the study of the role of proteins in human biology.
- But the problem is that these new approaches are still not being developed enough and their potential significance is not yet realised by many. This is despite the fact that as early as in 1976 Mikhail Markovich Vilenchik introduced a new scientific field of juvenology (from Latin Juvenis - "young"), that tasks itself with preserving and returning the youth.
- The ideas of immortality are developed in the general field of "practical human immortality". The research includes philosophical, biological, medical and technical aspects of immortality, moral and ethical aspects of practical immortality. But again and again people misunderstand the very essence of practical immortality. It's worth elaborating about on its meaning. The word "practical" is very important in describing the field, but all too often people ignore it and perceive the idea of immortality as absolute immortality that completely excludes the possibility of death. This is clearly impossible to achieve, and so the whole idea is dismissed as unrealistic.
- But the word "practical" describes an important quality of immortality as it's being researched. It appears that it is feasible to achieve unbounded lifespan for humans that would allow us to state that humans became "practically immortal". Even though this would not exclude the chance of death alltogether, this would limit the risks to external factors that can destroy a person, while removing the internal morbidity. The practical immortality is not absolute, it's relative - it's simply the ability to live the life without set limits on its length.
- Another key aspect of practical human immortality is that preserving the youth (or the optimal characteristics of phisical and mental states) is an integral part of preserving the life. In other words, immortality becomes a final stage in a logical progression - healthy life to preserving the youth to achieving practical immortality.
- I believe that today we are justified in treating the problem of immortality as practically solvable. I consider the cloning of mammals (and eventually humans) a particularly important development. When Fedorov and biocosmists discussed the revival of people, they could not explain the necessary steps. As a result, not much attention was paid to their ideas. The problem was not perceived as urgent or important at all. But with the advance of cloning (and some other developments) we can finally see the bright prospects of revival. I should mention that cloning and other current developments are hardly the last stage in the development of science. We can expect that better techniques will be created in the future and many current impediments will be removed. The controversies around the cloning will eventually be resolved and science will offer effective revival methods.
- All these developments make the idea of reviving dead people relevant. We need to rethink our approaches to burial and to modernise the burial services and technologies. This is one of the areas related to practical immortality where immediate actions are already justified.
- Of course, human cloning cannot be used today to effectively revive the human, but only to recreate a physical copy or spare parts.
- That's why it is important to extend the individual human life to wait till effective life extension technologies are developed. One of the best approaches is a healthy lifestyle, living according to various medical recommendations. But is also important to improve our burial technologies. Today the buried body decomposes quickly and there is almost no biological material left that could be used to restore the dead human using cloning or other methods. The cremation technology also destroys the remnants of human organism. We need to develop ways, such as cell banks, to preserve cells and tissues that could be used for cloning in the future.
- Of course, in addition to physical revival there is a separate problem of restoring the personality, the psychical, mental revival. One approach that looks feasible is the uploading, where certain characteristics of the mind are stored in a computer and later, when the body is revived, these characteristics - experiences, perceptions, memories, etc. - are copied onto the new brain to restore the individual. There are a lot of unsolved controversial problems here, but it appears that it is potentially feasible. We need to carry out more research in this area. Any restrictions and moratoriums will, in my opinion, only lead to criminalisation of research in this field. Such research has certain risks and they should be taken into account, but the reseach should still be carried out with appropriate checks, because we have no moral right to ignore the amazing possibilities that are open in this direction.
- I want to emphasise that present technologies are but a one stage in the process of scientific development. Future prospects are always greater than what is already possible. For example, in the past cyborgisation was considered a big part of extending life - substitution of plastic and metal artificial limbs and organs in place of natural ones. But now instead of some "cyborg monstrosity" the primary approach is the regeneration of human tissues and organs using, for example, stem cells. Seeing these prospects, I don't think there should be a place in our society for non-constructive scepticism and pessimism anymore. On the contrary, there are strong justifications for optimistic view. I'd like to wish my contemporaries to be optimistic. A pessimist looks for difficulties among possibilities, while an optimist looks for opportunities among difficulties. We should be seeking the ever growing opportunities. That's why I wish success to the Immortality Institute headed by Bruce Klein. I look forward to our future cooperation, because only through common efforts will we be able to solve this huge challenge - to realise the humanity's old dream of unlimited worthy life.
- The modern scientific achievements make the issue of personal immortality very urgent, making it relevant in today's world. One indicator is the foundation of Immortality Institute in the United States in 2002. This is clearly a very pleasing event. I'd like to pay tribute to the role of past Russian philosophers in posing and solving the challenge of personal immortality. The development of these ideas proceeding along three main directions. First of all, it's the "Philosophy of the Common Cause" of Nikolai Fedorovitch Fedorov, who argued that death is a condition caused by certain reasons, but not an integral and necessary quality of a human. He believed that not only must we defeat the death in the future and in present, but the deaths that have already occured. He believed that one of the tasks capable of uniting the humanity, our filial duty to our fathers was the revival of our ancestors.
- The second direction was the Russian biocosmism, including artists such as Alexander Ogilenko, Alexander Yaroslavsky and others. Their two main ideas were immortalism and interplanetarism - overcoming the temporal localism of human life by achieving immortality and the spatial localism through space exploration and interplanetary travel.
- Another big contribution to the development of ideas of immortality was made by Soviet writer Alexey Maksimovich Gorky. He was responsible for the establishment of the All-union Institute of Experimental Medicine in 1932 with the purpose to study human organism, human ageing and finding the ways to reverse the aging and avoid death.
- Finally, the third direction was the late 20th century work of such scientists as Vasilyi Kuprevitch, the President of the Belorussian Academy of Sciences, a biologist Lev Komarov and many others.
- Today there are two main approaches to achieving practical immortality. First, it's a healthy life-style that can let people extend their lives up to our special limits. Second, there are methods of artificial life extension that can remove these limits. Some modern technologies, such as cloning, can be used not only for growing "spare parts", but also for restoring the whole body in case of death. Because of this potential, some social and technological changes are already necessary, particularly, an overhaul of our burial technologies. In approaching these challenges we must be optimistic, looking for opportunities among the difficulties. The modern science gives us amazing possibilities and we must not ignore them. I hope for the cooperation between Immortality Institute and Russian scientists, because only through common effort we can, hopefully soon, achive the immortality."