Thursday, June 9, 2011

Transhumanism and Antinatalism

On the earlier post about transhumanism, Bazompora said something to the effect that both antinatalism and transhumanism have the same goals – eliminate suffering. I find nothing to strongly disagree with here, and in fact I think this is a self-evident truth. The only difference between the two groups is how we go about eliminating suffering.

Strictly speaking, I see no complete contradiction between these two schools of thought, for if we come to know how to switch off the genes giving rise to the parts of the sensory nervous system dealing with pain, plus similar knowledge regarding our ‘survival instincts’, then we could in theory eliminate all pain. As noted above, this is also a goal of antinatalism, probably the ultimate goal. However, eliminating all pain via transhumanist technologies comes with a price - it ultimately must eliminates our desire to live, though not our actual living existence itself (a root cause of pain is lack of desire satisfaction). This would essentially turn us into glorified robots in the classical connotation of the word. Picture a computer with self-awareness but without emotions and you get the picture.

This is all fine and good if you don’t mind the idea of being a DNA-based robot. However, most people would mind, and emphatically so at that. For this reason, transhumanism is not likely to be a realistic route to true happiness, although "non-robotic" variations of it might increase our pleasures (two different things if you think about it). Nevertheless, barring a very tiny fraction of the population who would see a robotic existence as preferable to a “human-like” one, transhumanism cannot be a permanent solution because most people will not use it to eliminate the very emotions and survival instincts which cause so much pain in the first place, suffering and evil (i.e, that which causes suffering).

Given all this, I throw my lot with antinatalism as the most realistic route to suffering elimination, though I use "realistic" loosely; for there is practically no chance of everyone embracing antinatalism before they embrace transhumanism. Antinatalism offers the promise of a permanent solution to both suffering and evil (at the very least for humans, and potentially for other neurological life). It does so in a theoretically simple way besides - simply stop having children. By contrast, transhumanism, were it to be successfully implemented, would be just a means to an end. That end to increase the emotions and joys of human existence, even if it still means at least some inevitable misery, and even retaining the risk of severe misery besides. In the end, though, it’s much easier and simpler to just not procreate in the first place.

11 comments:

timcooijmans said...

Happiness is in a sense different from experiencing pleasures, but then again it isn't. How can the desirable properties of happiness not be reduced to some mental phenomenon that we might be able to induce artificially?

filrabat said...

Happiness is certainly different from pleasure. Of course it depends on how you define happiness. I distinguish true happiness from feel-good emotionalism. The former is characterized by a steady, sober, emotionally neutral satisfaction with yourself as the way you are - WITHOUT the the chemically induced highs pleasure (thrills, sex, watching a funny movie scene, etc.) induce on our consciousness.

As for the latter part, if we ever create a transhuman that has no emotions (i.e. the glorified robot I wrote of), then what need is there for it to be happy? A robotic state of self-awareness is just that - aware of one's existence and processing sensory input and nothing more.

Shadow said...

Very cool the idea of mixing both antinatalism and transhumanism. But I gotta say that transhumanism scares the hell out of me.

Other than that, the question about happiness and pleasure is very well pointed out by you.

My take on this is that happiness is purely a mind phenonema, a concept of the mind, whereas pleasures are originated on the sensory level. Not only just the body. But happiness is something more ellusive and abstract, conceptual. Even it cannot exist, but pleasures are sure very real.

I think we can start differing them there.

Cheers!

Shadow said...

elusive*

Srikant said...

Agree very much with Shadow. This "transhumanism" is scary.

It's also, yes, please don't use metonymy to judge me here, "unnatural".

While pain and unhappiness aren't nice to experience, they give, if only a little, "meaning" and "direction" to life: we strive to avoid them. They give more reason for our actions, and give us a "responsibility" (which, while not a particularly pleasant thing, helps us in many ways). Why, many people enjoy parenting because it gives them more responsibility.

Stephenie Rowling said...

This is the first time I read that antinatalism is to eliminate suffering, well is there is no one alive of course there is no suffering, it also mean there is no joy or anything else.
There is deep connection with misanthropy in the idea that humans are the cause of all suffering and every other single creature does not bring suffering to the world.
Another issue is that the lack of "desire to procreate" is also a robotic type of life and option because desiring to procreate is tied to desire of living.
So in all in all IMO antinatalism is more scary and antinatural.

Transhumanism believe that the human baseline is faulty but has potential and room for improvement while antinatalism sees it as completely unworthy of anything but extinction.

Interesting point, although I disagree with the premise.

filrabat said...

This is the first time I read that antinatalism is to eliminate suffering, well is there is no one alive of course there is no suffering, it also mean there is no joy or anything else.

Nothing to dispute here.

There is deep connection with misanthropy in the idea that humans are the cause of all suffering and every other single creature does not bring suffering to the world.

Certain forms of antinatalism are connected to misanthropy. However, there’s also philanthropic antinatalism, which stresses suffering prevention. Then there's Ecological Antinatalism (the VHEMT form). In addition there is Teleological Antinatalism (emphasizes a lack of purpose in human existence, both the individual and species level). None of these are necessarily connected to misanthropy.

Misanthropy itself is a bit more complex to explain. There is the classical sense of the word “hatred of humanity, sometimes even including actual ill-will toward the same”. Then there’s the sense of “Humans are very much flawed, and with no hope of real improvement in ‘human nature’ (and thus no real hope of eliminating evil)”. I admit to holding to the latter type of misanthropy (which I label “soft, genteel misanthropy”; as opposed to what I label “hard, non-genteel misanthropy”, the stereotypical, perhaps archetypical, misanthropy). Maybe my type of “misanthropy” is better labeled as “human nature pessimism” or something to that effect (certainly needs a more elegant phrase). Regardless, I can see how I need to come up with another name.

filrabat said...

“Another issue is that the lack of "desire to procreate" is also a robotic type of life and option because desiring to procreate is tied to desire of living.”

This may or may not boil down to a defintional issue. I certainly don’t think I’m “moving goalposts”, but feel free to object if you think I am.

I disagree with equating desire to procreate with desire to live. The conventionally child-free have a desire to live, too; which I see as one data point contradicting the connection between procreation and desire to live. Beyond this, even antinatalists usually have a desire to live, at least on the individual level. After all, we have the same “survival instincts” on the individual level as everyone else (plus, on moral grounds, many of us have problems with suicide; specifically the deep emotional effects it would have upon family, friends, and acquaintances).

So while the desire to procreate is indeed connected to the desire to live, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the desire to not procreate is connected to the desire to not live – even with antinatalists.

Also, by “robotic” I meant it as a synonym for “completely lacking in any emotions and desires”; a prerequisite for which is, IMO, complete lacks of both a pain sensory system AND the “survival instincts”.

So in all in all IMO antinatalism is more scary and antinatural.

Scary I can understand, especially if people aren’t familiar with the system.

Though you didn’t bring this part up, nor did you even hint that I might believe this – I’ll bring it up anyway for the sake of others who stumbled across this blog post: I definitely call coercive antinatalism “scary” – for it would DEEPLY violate one’s ability to exercise their freedom of choice – another major cause of suffering. Along the same lines, it also violates fundamental human rights.

Antinatural, I disagree, though I likely use very different definitions of “natural” and “antinatural”. To me, if an event or phenomenon is allowable by the laws of science, then it’s “natural”. “Antinatural”, I take to be different from “Unnatural” (the latter I mean to be “impossible in any scenario under our laws of physics, etc). “Antinatural” itself I take to mean “naturally possible, but it goes against the very nature of the object or lifeform in question”. I’m not taking your remark as an insult, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that “human nature” can vary slightly from person to person”. It’s just that for me, at least barring any drastic change in my core belief system, I consider being for procreation “antinatural” to me. In short, it’s just a disagreement in opinion about a VERY touchy matter.

filrabat said...

Transhumanism believe that the human baseline is faulty but has potential and room for improvement while antinatalism sees it as completely unworthy of anything but extinction.

In theory, you’re correct about transhumanism, although I have serious doubts about how it would be used in practice if these technologies prove as powerful as its most ardent boosters claim it would be (see my post “Transhumanism: If it sounds too good…) post for details.
“Unworthy”: For “hard, nongenteel misanthropes”, this is correct. I can also reframe the issue as “Do humans really deserve to be exposed to the suffering of this world, even if they didn’t do anything wrong?”. AT BEST, even ignoring “evil or not?”, I think transhumanism can offer at most a long but ultimately temporary solution. Because the universe will eventually fade away (literally!), one day, we and our accomplishments will fade away. I don’t want it to be true, but that’s an inevitable fact. From this, I draw the conclusion that there’s no objective purpose in procreation, but that’s just my view. I won’t FORCE my view on anyone, though I will continue to inform others about it – let them wrestle with the data and draw their own conclusions.

Interesting point, although I disagree with the premise.

Diagreements are very welcome on here, Stephanie. 

Anonymous said...

You missed a key concept in transhumanism...

It's not about forcing people to do things. Everybody can make their own choices. I am a transhumanist, but i would NEVER chose to have my ''desire'' removed. Who would? You are making an assumption which is wrong.

filrabat said...

Anon,

I fully realize it is not about forcing people to do things. The post simply explains what IMO it would take to allow a human to experience consciousness without ever suffering. My take on it is that the person would have to eliminate all capacity to feel any desire at all. Assuming the future existence of such technologies and techniques, whether the person wants to keep his/her desires ought to be up to that person.