Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Oxford Press Book on Digital Age Spirituality Argues Second Life Provides Platform For Innovative Religious Thinking

New World Notes - Oxford Press Book on Digital Age Spirituality Argues Second Life Provides Platform For Innovative Religious Thinking:

The ultra-prestigious Oxford University just published a book devoted to theology in the digital age: Apocalyptic AI Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality. It's written by Manhattan College professor Robert Geraci, known in Second Life as Soren Ferlinghetti (pictured), and unsurprisingly, a whole chapter is devoted to Second Life, and conversations with several well-known Extropians (sometimes called transhumanists), who often see Second Life as a means for transcending the human body. "Interviews with Sophrosyne Stenvaag and Giulio Perhaps appear in this book, along with other data from the published work of folks like Extropia Dasilva and comments made at public discussions of religion that I hosted myself when i was running a site called the virtual temple," he tells me.

I have ordered the book but I have not received yet, and I am really looking forward to reading it. I have had many very interesting talks with Robert, for example on his interpretation of Moravec's writings. I remember a very interesting Chat with R. Geraci on transhumanism, religion and cosmic engineers in VR, (picture above) on which the interview with me is probably based.


  1. There is a limited preview available on Google books, which includes pretty much the full chapter on SL and the OCE.

    Geraci wrote: "She (he means me) does not want to enter our physical space. Rather, she wants to dissasociate from the physical human being who pilots her (or, that person, perhaps, wants her to do so) and live a transcendent virtual life".

    The part about me desiring a life independent of a human primary is correct, but not the part about me not wanting to enter physical space. I anticipate advances in telepresence technologies that will enable me to participate in RL events. Think hologram representations; claytronic bodies. These bodies might be pupetteered by a human primary, or maybe by AI depending on whether it is advanced enough to be useful.

    I must also take issue with Giulio's claim that immersionists think SL is a game. I do not think it is a game. Rather, I see immersionism offering a compromise between 'the upload is me' and 'the upload is not me'. I believe there are always elements that a digital person shares in common with its primary. 100% seperation of selves is not currently possible. We can argue over the ratios of 2nd life and 1st life personae that are possible right now, but already some humans are developing online personas that are 'kind of me, but also kind of somebody else'. If future technological developments enable richer and more complete expressions of the 2nd Life selves, that may act as a bridge that smooths out the transition from human to posthuman concepts of personal identity.

  2. Hi Extie -- the fun thing is that I don't find this chapter on the Google Books preview. Perhaps the preview is different depending on the IP (then we could use Tor to download whole books;-). Well, I should receive the book from Amazon in a few days.

    Re "immersionists think SL is a game" - this is not an accurate representation of what I think, I know I have said it on occasion but I did not express my thoughts clearly. "Immersionists think SL is an alternative reality" would have been more correct.

    Re "I anticipate advances in telepresence technologies that will enable me to participate in RL events" - So do I!

  3. No stealing transhumanist IP Giulio! I want free culture just as much as the next guy, but for now, we gotta get paid. Still, it's great food for thought.

    Extopia, you certainly already participate in RL. What you're after is not binary. Just helping reinforce the distinction, that you are instead seeking tools to empower you in new spaces. This is the essence of freedom, and we should all have the capacity to go where we may, to explore meat- and meta-spaces, and pursue our personal manifest destiny.

  4. @Paul: by IP I mean Internet Protocol address, not Intellectual Property. I suspect that different book previews are made available to people in different locations (with different IPs). It would follow that by changing IP (for example using the TOR network) one would get a different preview and eventually be able to copy the whole book.

    But now that you mention it, we can certainly combine both meanings in "Change your IP, Steal writers' IP"!!!

    I agree with you. It is important that creators (writers, musicians, film makers) make money with their creation, otherwise they must do something else for a living. I think the current IP (Intellectual Property) system is broken, but it should be replaced by a system which is fair for all, creators and consumers.

    This is the essence of freedom, and we should all have the capacity to go where we may, to explore meat- and meta-spaces, and pursue our personal manifest destiny.

    Right, well said!

  5. I have received the book! I have started reading it and plan to read it cover to cover in the weekend, then I will write a review.

    Product Description:
    Apocalyptic AI, the hope that we might one day upload our minds into machines or cyberspace and live forever, is a surprisingly wide-spread and influential idea, affecting everything from the world view of online gamers to government research funding and philosophical thought. In Apocalyptic AI, Robert Geraci offers the first serious account of this “cyber-theology” and the people who promote it.

    Chapter 3: Transcending Reality is mainly about transhumanist cultural expressions in Second Life, the Order of Cosmic Engineers, and quotes many of us extensively. Of course Robert is not a True Believer (aka Robot Cultist;-) but an anthropologist and a cultural analyst, but he gives a fair and often sympathetic coverage to our ideas.

  6. Ah, Robot Cultists. The problem with that is, it divides people up into 'those who believe in this stuff' and 'those that do not'. But those are inadequate for the range of beliefs I have come across over the years.

    I prefer to modify Richard Dawkins' sliding scale of belief in God:

    1. Strong theist...In the words of C.G Jung, 'I do not believe, I KNOW'.

    2. Very high probability. De facto theist. 'I do not know for certain, but I strongly believe in X and live my life on the assumption that X is (or will be) real.

    3: Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. 'I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in X'.

    4: Completely impartial agnostic.

    5: Technocally agnostic but leaning towards atheism. 'I don't know if X exists (or can ever exist) but I am inclined to be sceptical.

    6: De facto atheist. 'I cannot know for certain, but I live my life assuming X is impossible'.

    7. I KNOW X is impossible.

    Where my beliefs fall depends on what aspect of transhumanism I am contemplating. Increased lifespans and vitality through gerontology research and advances in medical technology? 2.

    Whole brain emulation tranferring (or copying) an individual's self to an artificial brain/body? 3.

    Nanosystems and robotics making money obsolete? 5.

    This is just a guess, but I think the average scores for OCE members would be 2-3.

  7. My answers to the same three questions, in your scale: 2, 2, 6. I am basically optimist for what concerns life extension and mind uploading but I believe conflict over scarce resources won't go away. If water, food and shelter become free, we will still kill each other for champagne, caviar, fast cars, sex and power.