My friend Michael LaTorra, an ordained Zen priest and the abbot of the Zen Center of Las Cruces, New Mexico, has written a short, simple and readable introduction to Buddhist Transhumanism. The article was published in Theology and Science in April with the title “What Is Buddhist Transhumanism?”
I don't know what I think about Jesus, sometimes. I'm clearly a believer -- a believer in his life, in the resurrection, in the atonement, in salvation and exaltation, in his hard moral teachings. But sometimes the ways I believe in these things seem so different from how I understood them before that some might not recognize them as Mormon.
by Geography of Hope on Saturday, December 12, 2015
My first encounter with really powerful depression came in the MTC. It worsened in the field. I cycled through periods of intense productivity and soul scouring depression a few times a month. As a missionary, I framed everything I experienced within the vernacular that was closest at hand. I attributed the depressive cycles to moral failure, not working hard enough, not being pure enough in my selflessness, despite the fact that I was clearly undergoing symptoms of clinical depression.
In a faith which claims God is the creator or architect of the universe, one grand idea to lose yourself in is to reconcile that faith with the amazing truths mankind has discovered about those creations. This exercise was eloquently described by Blaise Pascal in the 17th century and resonates even more powerfully today:
This post is part of a series of personal narratives written by members of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. Each tells their story of how they became a Transhumanist. Guest: Joni Newman.
I’m probably not the most obvious person to be interested in the transhumanist movement. For starters, I’m an English teacher. I spend my time reading and annotating Jane Austen and helping my students understand the brilliance of Harper Lee. I grade nearly interminable piles of essays. When I get home, I cross stitch to wind down, and throw fuzzy balls at my cat while I watch Jimmy Fallon or something from the BBC. I own three copies of the first Harry Potter book. The closest I get to scientific exploration most days is an episode of Doctor Who and the occasional National Geographic article.
Topics: How We Became Transhumanists
Much has been said about recent LDS policy changes with regards to the parents and children in same-sex families. While I won't profess to have final answers (that's not what I'm offering here), I feel there's a need for more charitable dialogue and Christ-like discipleship to find ways forward. And I hope this can be a tool others can use to better understand each other.
|Shefa Tal: Raising of the Hands during the Priestly Blessing of Judaism. #LLAP|
Like many of the readers here, I was raised Mormon. That means I come from pioneer stock, and among my ancestors were personal friends of the seer Joseph Smith, colonizers, polygamists, members of the Mormon Battalion and the murderous Mountain Meadows militia. I advanced through the orders of the male-only Mormon priesthood, met my high school sweetheart in seminary, wrote to her every week during my two year mission, married and was sealed to her in the temple six months after my return and witnessed the birth of our first child two months after our first anniversary. But part of me doesn’t fit the Mo-mold and never did: my father is a Jew, and my parents were never married.
In response to recent LDS Church policy changes related to children of LGBT parents, a kind and well-meaning friend commented on the outpouring of reactions.
All publicity is good publicity.
That maxim couldn’t be truer when it comes to transhumanism’s crossover with the presidential campaign cycle.
So thank you, Zoltan Istvan, wrong as you are.
I would like to share a new perspective on priesthood: that of a Mormon Feminist Transhumanist. Although some may criticize me and my minority position in our vulnerability, I feel it is important to offer this perspective with authenticity and honesty.
We are admonished in the scriptures to let our will be swallowed up in the will of God, suggesting that our desires can only be inferior to God's, whose desires for us far surpass our own. There is certainly something right about this; if our concept of God does not acknowledge the superiority of divinity to humanity, we are merely worshipping ourselves.
If theism is simply belief in God or Gods, then I am clearly a theist. What flavor of theism is more complex, and I don't know the closest words, but I believe in a very Mormon structure of families of Gods going back in time perhaps longer than we can imagine. But look for a moment at this definition of atheism from Michael Shermer:
Funny how the lessons of life recur. We see them in one form, glean insights, and years later in a different guise. We build lesson upon lesson and are architects of sorts. From where do the raw materials stem? From where do the lessons which become our personal thesis arise?
While reading some comments on social media concerning prayer, I’ve found that too many of my fellow believers and non-believers have sorely lost sight of the function of prayer.
The futurist Ray Kurzweil is not only famous for consistently predicting a technological singularity within decades, but also for his unusual habit of consuming more than 250 supplements per day in an attempt to live to see it. His logic: that if one can live long enough to witness the singularity, one may achieve "longevity escape velocity" and, perhaps, biological immortality (not to mention conscious immortality via mind uploading). While most professing transhumanists cannot afford Kurzweil's fountain-of-youth cocktail, there are many practical, evidence-based interventions that can extend our lives and health.
|portion of actual link network of transhuman wikipedia pages|
Often times I get asked, "So, what is transhumanism?" While I'm sure not all transhumanists agree on a single definition, one of the most concise definitions I use is, "The belief that technology can not only improve the human condition but fundamentally change it."
[NOTE: This is a condensed version of the talk by the same title delivered at the Extreme Tech Conference on July 19, 2015 in Redmond, WA]
I remember seeing the children falling through the air, their limbs akimbo, grasping for land or any anchor that would save them from the fall. I remember the feelings of terror, panic, pity and helplessness as I watched, unable to intervene. And then I awoke – alone, scared and slowly came to the realization that it was simply a dream, though still I feared closing my eyes again too soon lest I return. That dream took place more than 30 years ago. Much of the detail has faded – how did they come to fall? Were they pushed or did they jump like lemmings? – still I remember the images, can recall the emotions. It was just a dream; it wasn’t real. But I recall the experience of the dream. The personal semiotics that the dream contained were real, telling me something about my own psyche, my own sense of self and so making it an experience with meaning.
I'm in. That was my first thought when I read just a couple of pieces about Mormon Transhumanism. It was a Wednesday evening early this summer. I had read a description of Transhumanism in a Huffington Post article:
“Transhumanists' main goals are to overcome mortality and ... in essence, to become godlike.”
I more than once have learned that "Blessed" in the Beatitudes is a word that implies the happy state that the Gods are in. What if one were to take this meaning very literally, and set the Sermon on the Mount in the context of the Mormon and Transhumanist ideals of humanity actually approaching or achieving Godhood? Where our Heavenly Father and Mother had parents of their own and went through the same process we are now experiencing? Then the Beatitudes would begin:
You’ve probably heard the old saying “everyone is born an atheist; we have to be taught religion”. In my case, that might actually be true.
I had the opportunity recently to sit down with my wife's 98 year-old grandmother. The occasion was an LDS temple sealing of my niece and her, now, husband. As we waited for the party to arrive, I made my way over to where "GG" (great-grandma) sat next to her rather modern-looking walker which doubles as a portable oxygen system -- a machine extending her life. Once she recognized people who sat down next to her, she was eager to have very lucid and engaging conversation with the wisdom of a 98 year-old smile and laugh.
It starts with a small opening, not even a wound
But the opening grows, intensifies, parts
It is the rift of the world; a rift that begins to tear and to bleed and
to rend the mind and the lungs and the flesh.
We are no longer together, no longer one, no longer whole.
Instead there is a rupture so great there is no going back;
the history of the world is changing.
I remember being told in my youth that God saw everything we did, and that when we did wrong His spirit would go away. I know variations on this are common teachings, and it did cause me a little distress at times, knowing that God saw the things I had done wrong and would judge me for it. But God was pretty impersonal for me, despite intellectually believing in Him as my father, so the impact never lasted long. It didn't make me choose right, although it did likely foster feelings of shame. The shame of being watched really hit home when I thought about the spirits of my Mormon ancestors and children to be floating around and caring about my welfare. It was always presented that way -- they were cheering me on to make good choices -- but it was a whole lot more emotional to imagine them watching me as I obsessed over a lingerie catalog, and I couldn't help but make the connection.
I was very sad when I heard of the terrorist attack against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on January 7. I have been in the Middle East many times, and I only had good experiences with Muslims, but it seems that the Western and Islamic civilizations are on a violent collision course, and nothing good can come from that.
I love windy days. They remind me to have faith in the beauty of things I can’t see. Though the wind is intangible I can feel it all around me, and though I can’t see it I can see continual evidence of its presence. I believe the same is true of God.
One day we’ll know how our universe came into existence, and how such complexity was accomplished with such basic materials over so vast a space-time. We may even be able to recreate such complexity. We have made tiny accomplishments towards that end, making small simulated environments that are very well defined and static (as in CGI movies), and making other amazingly vast dynamic worlds with extremely simple rendering (such as Minecraft). At some point on this car ride to Creator status, we’ll start asking, “Are we there yet?” Well, we can start asking now. And the answer may be that we are almost there. Case in point: No Man’s Sky.
So much angst in debates either for or against religion comes from pitting a dogmatic pre-secular attitude towards religion against reductive secular-only world-views. Often both see no possible way forward. And if religion can only ever be pre-secular and if secularly-informed world views can only ever be secular-reductive then perhaps that might be the case. But between these two extremes there lies a faith which delights in the truths gained through honest secular endeavors but that still acknowledges the reality and power of God.
At almost any minute of any day, your life could change drastically. Our bodies are fragile, our destinies determined second-by-second. Snap your fingers. That’s how suddenly what you have come to expect for yourself, or a member of your family, could change as the result of an illness or accident. What would it mean in terms of work, mobility, relationship, identity? How quickly or slowly would you adapt to a drastically new state of reality?
Pilate asked, "What is truth?"
At the time of writing, The Transfigurist didn’t have a comment system yet, but the essays published had been shared on various social networks and stimulated interesting discussions. I found a comment from a respected friend to my essay “Religion Fiction Inspires Real Religion” very interesting, and worth replying to in detail.
I am a stay-at-home mother with three beautiful children. I am also a Transhumanist. It may seem like an unlikely pairing, but as you read you’ll see it’s quite natural. My journey toward Transhumanism started before I even realized it began.
In ninth grade I decided I wanted to be a scientist. I loved learning and discovering new ideas, especially ideas related to science and technology. I enjoyed reading about the process of how discoveries in science were made.
Growing up, the man who lived just down the hall from me was a talented spine surgeon. As an academic and devout Mormon, he continually interjected his work with religion and vice versa. I recall him being decorated with awards for medical achievements and the occasional colleague referring to him as an outlier. To me, he was just Dad.
|(Image sources: Observable Universe Logarithmic Scale, Carina Nebula, Moroni Statue, Atomic Symbol)|
In my previous post on the Fractal Lineage of Gods, I briefly mentioned that Mormonism is capable of projecting through models like Kardashev scales or Ray Kurzweil's epochs of evolution. Here I wanted to expand on that idea. If you are new to Kurzweil's epochs of evolution here's a quick video Jason Silva did summarizing it (BTW, I've talked to other members of the Mormon Transhumanist Association who are also big fans of his).
Our family makes frequent trips to Epcot. It’s one of the perks of living 15 minutes away from Walt Disney World. Among the many fantastic attractions in Epcot’s Future World is Spaceship Earth. It’s one of our favorites, not just because of the awe inspiring architecture of the gigantic geometric sphere, but, for me, there is an important message that is so beautifully delivered through the narrator, Judy Dench.
Faith is sometimes thought of as the seed for comfort in our lives. Yet often it is more comforting to turn to evidence rather than faith, to be assured that decisions and policy are sound. Science provides light into the mysteries of disease. At its best, it brings us to the root causes of suffering and helps us look in the right direction for solutions. Knowledge can bring us to compassion, it moves us away from superstition, and ideally away from stigma. Belief in the power of prayer isn't rational. Neither is believing in God. Who needs a puppeteer in the sky when we can travel into the heavens ourselves and witness the birth and death of distant stars?
|Composite image sourced here and here|
In the symbolic language of Mormonism, the circle indicates eternity. This symbolism was introduced by Joseph Smith in his expounding on eternity's nature. He used the most common symbol he had at his disposal. Prophets take eternal concepts which are beyond anything we can completely express and communicate them using familiar symbols or objects. This is semiological transmission with its encoding and decoding. And as Mormonism promotes the idea of continuous revelation of further truths, I believe the symbol system of fractals, which has come to us after the life of Joseph Smith, can be welcomed to provide clearer resolution of Mormon truths surrounding creation, cosmology, ontology, and aesthetics.
In 1928, Carl Theodor Dreyer made the silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc.” The film was shown once and censored. It was thought lost in a fire, and a second version, made of second takes, was created. Then, another version (not by the original director) was compiled by cutting and torturing the second original. The film Joan, thus, was subjected to a path paralleling that of the historical Joan.
The teenage Joseph Smith had an epiphany as he wrestled with scripture and the competing religious factions around him: answers to his questions were not to be found in an appeal to argumentation or to religious text; they were to be found in direct encounter with God. Thus began a prophetic career that attempted to facilitate and democratize communion with God.
In a previous post, I suggested that the cyborg was a useful myth for post-patriarchal Mormonism. The cyborg is an inseparable union of body and mind, mechanism and person. The cyborg is, in a sense, a refutation of Cartesian dualism. Mormonism can be a uniquely cyborg-affirming religion, because in Mormon theology, pure humanity is already compromised. Personhood is inescapably merged with matter, as even the Mormon “spirit” is material, and the religion’s mythical gods are imagined to be people who learned over eons to control natural forces in advanced ways. In the prior post, I discussed how the cyborg was a feminist myth which seems ready-made for incorporation into ways that Mormons can think about themselves.
If you created ants, would you let them dream?
Why or why not?
What do you know or believe about your own dreams?
Has that always been the case?
When, if at all, did how you feel about your dreams change?
What triggered the change?
What was the best dream you ever had?
Why is that?
When do you dream?
How is your dream life different than your waking life?
Why do you think that is?
Technology plays a central role in transhumanist narratives -- even to certain degrees of religiosity found in Singularitarianism. Indeed, there are good reasons to view narratives about the emergence of a super-intelligence from a technological singularity to be as transformative as narratives of eternal life or millennialism found in religion. However, what is sometimes missing or seen as a footnote in transhumanist narratives is an equally strenuous focus on compassion, not merely as a byproduct or guide of transhuman technology, but as an author of it.
Kate Kelly, Mormon feminist and co-founder of the Ordain Women movement, was recently denied her excommunication appeal by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her actions toward gender equality were deemed as apostasy and caused her excommunication. I am hurt by this decision and I feel a personal loss as a fellow Mormon.
We are mistaken, sometimes dangerously so, when we confuse our current understanding with God's absolute and eternal truth. As marvelous as Mormonism is -- and it is marvelous -- it is surely a weak reflection of what God has in store. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Historians of Mormonism have done a lot to bring more "truth" to LDS history. Their efforts, coupled with the global impact of the Internet, have had a lasting impact on our understanding of our past. Mormon history has evolved from "faith-promoting stories" to actual, factual history. And the work of historians — like D. Michael Quinn, Richard L. Bushman, and John G. Turner — has caused important changes in the Church.
This is not a post about Bill Cosby. It is an article about abusive power because rape is always about power and not sex. This is an issue of equal importance to both men and women because abusive power spawns a culture of violence and a culture of victimization.
For most of recorded human history, the rate of advancement of scientific and technological knowledge during any one human’s lifespan was hardly noticeable. A thousand years could pass with little technological change observable by the average human. In contrast, most of the advanced technology that we use today was developed in the last 100 years, with the current exponential curve starting around the fall of the Roman Empire.
One of the goals of transhumanism is life extension enabled by science and technology. What if we could extend lifespans by 50%? What would it mean? What would you do with the time? What difference would it make to your family? How would it feel to tell your children or their children about a time when people died much younger, and watch as they roll their eyes because early death is no longer a part of their worlds? What kinds of benefits would society be able to gain if people could live healthy, longer? What kinds of experiences would be shared? What would result from the added collective wisdom within the culture? Just think of it.
I marvel at the creativity I witness from my son’s young and fresh mind. His curiosity and originality unbounded, he darts between Youtube toy reviews, LEGO experiments, and Minecraft explorations. At age 4, he has no limits and can dream up amazing things. Of course he’s impressionable: every subsequent waking hour of his life is shaped by the media of the previous hour. But just as much as he is shaped, he then builds himself as a shaper, a maker.
We all, as individuals and members of societies, dedicate a lot of effort to finding ways to cope with the idea of death.
Most believers in traditional Western religions imagine resurrection in an afterlife, where they will be forever reunited with loved ones. Most believers in traditional Eastern religions and spiritual traditions think that, while an otherworldly realm beyond physical reality may eventually be attained, most people go through a long string of lives here on Earth (reincarnation).
Unlike traditional Christians, Mormons are philosophical materialists. They imagine a unified cosmos consisting only of matter, bounded by space and time, operating under natural law. Founder Joseph Smith is quoted as saying, “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter.” (D&C 131:7). He set Mormons apart from philosophical dualists by arguing that there is no substance other than the material world, even if matter is invisible to mortals or not yet understood.1 The Mormon cosmos is wholly natural and follows fixed laws; there is no supernatural. Without distinct natural and supernatural realms, it never made sense for Mormons to distinguish natural or scientific truth from spiritual truth. Within Mormonism, natural and spiritual truth collapse into a unified whole. Smith claimed, “Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth” (Times and Seasons, Feb. 1840, pp. 53–5), thus suggesting he viewed science as a branch of Mormonism, and vice versa.2
In my previous post, I talked about Fred Brooks’ insights on the transcendent properties of the creative process -- particularly from his experience with software engineering. He describes the joy of the creative process this way:
- The joy of creation
- The joy of service
- The joy of seeing your creation in action
- The joy of learning
- The joy of having free and limitless creative medium
As a teenager growing up in the 1970’s who was interested in all things science and technology related while also a Mormon with strong Mormon roots, I had to come to grips with what appeared to be some basic incompatibilities between scientific truth and religious truth.
What I discovered over time is that most of the incompatibility lay not with disagreements between fundamental tenets of Mormon theology and science, but lay with disagreements between the theologies of other Christian religions and science. Albeit there are elements of Mormonism that may be problematic for the scientist, these have to do more with culture, practice, and policy than with cosmology. Indeed, as I continued to pursue my education—eventually getting a PhD in Electrical Engineering and continuing for many more years as a tenured professor at a university—I found that the theistic cosmology first espoused by Joseph Smith in the early nineteenth century, is uncannily becoming more compatible, not less, with advances in scientific knowledge.
Around the turn of the century, there were critics who felt that the Internet was being over hyped. For example, art critic Robert Hughes writing about the information highway in Digital Time (1995) claimed that “We will look back on what is now claimed ... and (wonder) how we ever psyched ourselves into believing all the bull-dust about ... fulfillment through interface and connectivity. But by then we will have some other fantasy to chase. Its approaches equally lined with entrepreneurs and flack who will be the beneficiaries.” Hughes died in 2012, so he was able to see the evolution of the worldwide web. I wonder if he had changed his mind?