Tuesday, January 5, 2010

MTA: Brief Comparison of Cosmism and Transfigurism

Lincoln Cannon of the Mormon Transhumanist Association has posted a Brief Comparison of Cosmism and Transfigurism: some quick thoughts on how the Ten Cosmist Convictions, as authored by Giulio Prisco and Ben Goertzel, compare to my perspective as a Mormon Transhumanist. Some of the comparisons merit more elaboration than I give them here, but will, I expect, yet provide some insight into compatibilities between these views.

Lincoln'r review is excellent, establishes many parallels between the Ten Cosmist Convictions and Mormon doctrine, and shows how Cosmism, as defined in the Cosmist Manifesto, is basically compatible with Transfigurism: I share with Cosmism a trust in, and even childlike anticipation of, our potential to explore the universe, as presently conceived, and whatever may be beyond that. Mormon scripture references innumerable inhabited worlds, both similar to our own and as diverse as globes of fiery glass, and proclaims that no knowledge will be withheld: whether there be one God or many, if there be bounds to the heavens, they will be manifest. Buzz Lightyear put it best: "To infinity and beyond!"... I agree with the Sixth Cosmist Conviction, that science and technology will enable realization of most prophecies, including resurrection of the dead -- PARTICULARLY resurrection of the dead.

I already thought Transfigurism is very compatible with my own worldview and this is why, though I am not a member of the LDS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka the Mormons), I am a member of the Mormon Transhumanist Association and fully subscribe to the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation:

(1) We seek the spiritual and physical exaltation of individuals and their anatomies, as well as communities and their environments, according to their wills, desires and laws, to the extent they are not oppressive.
(2) We believe that scientific knowledge and technological power are among the means ordained of God to enable such exaltation, including realization of diverse prophetic visions of transfiguration, immortality, resurrection, renewal of this world, and the discovery and creation of worlds without end.
(3) We feel a duty to use science and technology according to wisdom and inspiration, to identify and prepare for risks and responsibilities associated with future advances, and to persuade others to do likewise.

I asked Lincoln to write this review because I am very interested in his opinion. I consider Transfigurism as a very important example of of how religion and science may co-exist, and even mutually reinforce, within the framework of an established religion. I am also very interested in experiments on how to "export" this fusion of science and religion to other established religions, but probably some points in Mormon doctrine make the LDS an especially fertile ground for a "scientific religion". If this is the case, exporting the core concepts of Transfigurism to other established religions may be difficult.

Probably the most significant difference is on point 2) of the Cosmist Convictions: 2) We will develop sentient AI and mind uploading technology. Mind uploading technology will permit an indefinite lifespan to those who choose to leave biology behind and upload. Some uploaded humans will choose to merge with each other and with AIs. This will require reformulations of current notions of self, but we will be able to cope.

Lincoln says: it's not clear to me whether we may differ in our judgment of the value of uploaded intelligence. This requires exploring the meaning of "uploaded intelligence", which I'll do only briefly here... Mormonism holds that embodiment (rather than disembodiment), as a step toward Godhood, is empowering and good; for Mormons, heaven is not fully attained until the dead are resurrected and embodied anew.

I wish to suggest that suitably extended definitions of "body" and "embodiment" may permit reconciling this difference. Our biological bodies are interfaces between ourselves (our cognitive capabilities, which today operate on the wetware computational substrate of a biological brain) and the rest of the world. Tomorrow, uploads will still need interfaces to perceive and interact with external habitats and other sentient beings, and such interfaces, once they are developed, will be at least as rich and complex as those provided by our current biological bodies. They may be robotic bodies with sensors and actuators at least as good as our current biological bodies, and probably much better, or virtual bodies operating in synthetic environments with high performance I/O interfaces providing a rich sensorium indistinguishable from (or better than) our current physical senses. I think with these extended definitions, the embodiment of future uploaded intelligences will be equally (and probably much more) empowering and good.