Thursday, April 2, 2009

One of the Most Idiotic People Alive on The Holy Squishy Body




You may have noticed a recent series of anti-transhumanist rants on Dale Carrico's blog, triggered by a post on Michael Anissimov's blog. In one post Carrico informs us that Giulio Prisco May Be One of the Most Idiotic People Alive and portrays me with the nice image above, which I absolutely love and will adopt as one of my icons.

I, the mad scientist in the image, am guilty of reminding Carrico that everything under the stars, including biological systems like ourselves, is a physical system composed by atoms, molecules and fields which move around and do their things in accordance with physical laws. Some physical laws are already understood well enough for engineering applications, while others are not yet understood well enough for engineering applications. Science advances, and sooner or later it will understand even today's poorly understood parts of nature well enough for engineering applications. Including, why not, "personal techno-immortalization via either the superlongevity medicine presently aborning in the super-secret Robot Cult labs in the asteroid belt or through an "uploading" process whereby one's squishy en-brained mind manages to "migrate" without loss into that ethereal eternality that is cyberspace;".

This must be filthy reductionism, no doubts, mad scientists' unPC dreams, and of course fringe science and crankery... but wait a minute. This is not fringe science but the very scientific worldview, since Galileo. Galileo was forced by the Church to denounce his heretic notion that planets are just physical systems which move around and do their things in accordance with physical laws (other scientists have been less realpolitikally savvy and have been burned by the Church for saying exactly the same things). Since Galileo we think that the universe and everything in it, with no exceptions, are understandable by science and can be tweaked and modified by engineering once the underlying science is understood well enough. Not crankery, but the scientific method. Not mad scientists' reductionist and unPC dreams, but what actual scientists and engineers do.

When he is hard pressed, Carrico grudgingly concedes that "I am a materialist in matters of mind and that means, among other things, that I don’t discount the logical possibility that something enough akin to intelligence to deserve the description might be materialized on a different substrate.". So strong AI and mind uploading are at least logically possible, how interesting... But then, between one personal insult and another, he goes back to his usual attitude, which is a form of vitalism: "A doctrine that the processes of life are not explicable by the laws of physics and chemistry alone and that life is in some part self-determining. Where vitalism explicitly invokes a vital principle, that element is often referred to as the "vital spark," "energy" or "√©lan vital," which some equate with the "soul."".

What does Carrico have to offer in place of life extension, mind uploading and other transhumanist dreams? Well, one higher value that he frequently proposes is... shit (see here, here and here). Some transhumanists refer to him as "poop-hugger". Now he has a new vitalist slogan: "Intelligence isn't math, it's a squishy sloppy-wet mess, like a kiss.".

Well, better kisses than shit if you ask me. But the post is about the feasibility of AI and Mr. C. considers squishy sloppy-wet messes as the only possible substrate for intelligence. We are, of course, reductionists who discount "many dimensions associated with the actual exhibition of intelligence in the world (which include more than just cognitive reckoning with consequences but also sensitivity, imagination, empathy, emotionality, expressivity, savvy, instinct, improvisation, and a conscience that cannot be reduced only to calculation).". This is twice bullshit: once because all these nice things also originate from computation, and twice because he knows perfectly well that we don't discount them. Of course Mr. C. tries to hide his vitalism behind "I'm not positing any kind of mysterious supernatural force in the way that the vitalists did... You can discount this objection as woo-woo mysticism if you like, but it looks to me like pointing out errors, one materialist to another...". Hold on. Sorry Dale, this IS woo-woo mysticism, pure and simple.

Carrico likes to call transhumanists "Robot Cultists" but his own words when he worships The Holy Squishy Mortal and Vulnerable Body that has to Poop, for example "it is true that life is lived in bodies, and that bodies are various and vulnerable and mortal and hungry for connection, and that embracing embodied life demands an embrace of all this about bodies. To deny their variation, their vulnerability, their mortality, their sociability is to deny the body." sounds to me like mystic woo-woo cultism of the worst kind. Yes, I deny the body. So what?