Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book Review - A Cosmist Manifesto: Practical Philosophy for the Posthuman Age, by Ben Goertzel


This article has been republished on the IEET blog. A revised and expanded version: "A Cosmist Manifesto, an Advocacy" has been published on H+ Magazine.

A Cosmist Manifesto: Practical Philosophy for the Posthuman Age, by Ben Goertzel, published by Humanity+ Press, is now available on Amazon.

The term Cosmism was introduced by Tsiolokovsky and other Russian Cosmists around 1900. Goertzel's "Cosmist Manifesto" gives it new life and a new twist for the 21st century. Cosmism, as Goertzel presents it, is a practical philosophy for the posthuman era. Rooted in Western and Eastern philosophy as well as modern technology and science, it is a way of understanding ourselves and our universe that makes sense now, and will keep on making sense as advanced technology exerts its transformative impact as the future unfolds. Among the many topics considered are AI, nanotechnology, uploading, immortality, psychedelics, meditation, future social structures, psi phenomena, alien and cetacean intelligence and the Singularity. The Cosmist perspective is shown to make plain old common sense of even the wildest future possibilities.

Dr. Ben Goertzel, a research scientist working on various futuristic technologies including artificial general intelligence and life extension, is also CEO of tech consulting firms Novamente LLC and Biomind LLC. He lives in Maryland with multiple children and animals, and his doings are linked online via http://goertzel.org.


The book has been available online since the summer of 2009 on Ben's Cosmist Manifesto blog. Many chapters have been republished online by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, so the Cosmist Manifesto has been frequently discussed online already.

I am sure this book will be a life-changer for many readers. It is a transhumanist book, full of mind boggling future options and possibilities enabled by science and technology: extreme life extension aka immortality, artificial intelligences of human and super-human level, brain-computer interfacing, mind uploading, synthetic realities, spreading to the galaxies and beyond, perhaps to other dimensions of existence, resurrection, building gods... this is the real, visionary, wonderful, space-opera like transhumanism that was discussed on the Extropy list in the 90s. Unfortunately, real transhumanism is difficult to find in the sedate, politically correct dullness of many contemporary ex-transhumanist discussion spaces, but the fire is still burning under the ashes and Ben's book will put your mind on fire.

Though it is not meant as a scientific or technical book, but rather as an impressionist painting of the sense of wonder and meaning inspired by science and technology, the Cosmist Manifesto is a pleasure to read for technology enthusiasts, especially those interested in very imaginative technologies and future possibilities. But it is also a book about consciousness, spirituality, and a practical guide to living our lives in this unique phase of the evolution of our species, which is preparing to leave biology behind and spread to the universe. In the Cosmist Manifesto, Ben writes also about meditation, mental health, relationships, sexuality, zen, joy, wisdom, and, why not, religion. Ben's book is a unique blend of science and spirituality, futurism and compassion, technology and art, practical life strategies and cosmic visions.

In his book, Ben outlines my own world-view: there is not one word that I disagree with, and there is not one important omission that I can criticize. I have often thought of writing a book, but Ben has written my book, and much better than I could have ever done. I am honored to have participated in some of the online discussions which have led to this book, and I am honored to be quoted in the Cosmist Manifesto.

Congratulations to Ben, and congratulations to Humanity+ for publishing this excellent book! I have already bought the book on Amazon. Of course I had already read the online and PDF versions cover to cover, but this book deserves its place in the physical bookshelves of all transhumanists.

In 2008 I resigned from the Board of Directors of Humanity+, called WTA at the time, in protest against what I considered as an excessively moderate stance and taking a distance from radical transhumanist visions. I am happy to see that the current Board, by publishing Ben's Cosmist Manifesto, is re-affirming the commitment of Humanity+ to real, radical and visionary transhumanism.

In both the published book and private communications, Ben is careful not to propose Cosmism as a new religion. He writes: "Cosmism is not a religion. But it has the potential to deliver some of the benefits of religion in a manner more consilient with science." I completely agree, but I am willing to go one little step further, and to propose Cosmism as a meta-religion: a loose framework of ideas, concepts, hopes, feelings and sensibilities at the intersection of science and religion, compatible with many existing and new frameworks, a magic place where science and religion meet, science becomes religion, religion becomes science, and wanderers can find sense of wonder, sense of meaning, hope and happiness.