Thursday, June 5, 2008

Conference Report: The Future of Religions - Religions of the Future - Second Life, June 4, 5

The Conference: The Future of Religions - Religions of the Future - June 4, 5, 2008 has been a two-day conference examining how two of the 21st Century's driving forces, religion and technology, will continue to re-shape each other and, in the process, re-cast our understanding of "humanity" in the Third Millennium. Centered on, but not limited to, virtual worlds and social networking technologies, speakers and panelists also examined changes precipitated by the biotechnology revolution, cognitive science, information technologies and robotics. Speakers included William Sims Bainbridge, James Hughes, Giulio Prisco, Lincoln Cannon and Robert Geraci.

The "Extropia" and "Al-Andalus Caliphate Project" communities have masterfully organized of this great event dedicated to very important issues. I had this strange feeling that we were watching history in the making, and I don't mean only history of VR worlds. The first day of the conference was held in my favorite place in Second Life: the Extropia Core sim, which among many other things is the main meeting place of of SL-Transhumanists. The second day was held in the Al-Andalus Caliphate sim, a Second Life attempt to reconstruct 13th Century Moor Alhambra and build around this virtual space a community of individuals willing to explore the modalities of interaction between different languages, nationalities, religions and cultures shaped by authentic Islamic principles. See this page on the conference website for more info. I have been many times to the Alhambra in Granada, and the look&feel is very similar. The Al-Andalus Caliphate will also become one of my favorite sims in SL. Before starting the conference on the second day I have purchased in Al-Andalus some appropriate attire for my new avatar Eschatoon Magic.

I will not write a very detailed report, as I am sure many blogs and of course the main conference website will provide one, but focus on my main impressions. On the first day, after the introduction by Michel Manen and Sophrosyne Stenvaag, William Sims Bainbridge gave a very creative presentation with a magic hat producing random quotes from his 2007 books, Across the Secular Abyss and Nanoconvergence, and a magic belt producing random quotes from babylon 5. These random sentences, taken together, formed a very coherent and fascinating presentation on Immortality of Avatars: Deciding between the Paths of Science or Religion. My favorite part of Bill's presentation: "John Cage is dead... perhaps". Lincoln Cannon gave once again a superlative (double sense that most readers will understand) presentation of Mormonism, Transhumanism, and the positive synergy between them embodied in the Mormon Transhumanist Association of which I, though not a Mormon, am _very_ proud of being a member. Lincoln also outlined some features of Mormonism which make it more open to transhumanist thinking. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the last three very interesting presentations of the first day. I definitely looked forward to listening to Robert Geraci's talk.

Andrew Wallace started the second day with a thought provoking presentation of possible entangled evolutions of religion and society. Then I gave my talk on Transhumanist Religions. The full text of my talk is available here. I announced a new project that has been in the works for a few weeks: the Order of Cosmic Engineers (I will write _much_ more about this):

On behalf of its founding team, a few members of which are virtually attending this conference, I have the honor and the pleasure to announce the foundation of the Order of Cosmic Engineers, humanity’s First “UNreligion of Science”, and warmly invite you to join its cosmic quest. Adopting an engineering approach and attitude, the Order aims to turn this universe into a “magical” realm in the sense of Clarke’s Third Law: a realm where sufficiently advanced technology turns daily reality into what would be considered by most today as a seemingly supernatural ‘magical’ realm.

We are, at the same time, a transhumanist association, a spiritual movement, a space advocacy group, a literary salon, a technology observatory, an idea factory, a virtual worlds development group, and a global community of persons willing to take an active role in building, in realizing a sunny future. We will discuss the future of humanity during World of Warcraft quests, plan the future of technology in Second Life, and build futuristic virtual worlds in our labs. But most importantly, we will assist you -yes, we do mean you- in finding meaning and hope in your existence in this, your reality, your universe.

Whatever our formal training and professional affiliations, in a very profound sense we are all scientists and engineers. We develop technical skills and design principles that will enable us to create and explore new realities. Therefore, the Order will undertake various projects, selected because they are both revolutionary and feasible at the current cutting edge of science and technology. The Order’s website can be found at http://cosmeng.org/. Its first event will be hosted by the Science Guild in World of Warcraft on June 14 at noon EST.


James Hughes, always an excellent speaker even when he uses text chat (all speakers with the exception of Edward Lee Lamoreux used text chat), explored the impact of the coming wave of neurotechnology developments, including neural interfaces, on future developments of religious beliefs and practices in our changing society. I am grateful to the last speaker Ed Lamoreux who used voice, so I could listen to his great talk on the presence of religions online, and the sociology of online religions, while taking care of minor annoying things such as urgent business email. In summary, this was a great event, by far the best event I have attended in Second Life, with a professional organization comparable to the best events in brickspace and first rate content.