Beyond Religion - What the Future May Hold ...
(Top Posts - Science - 050102)

Will religion fade away as scientific / genetic /
robotic / biologic / computerized advances propel
us towards a future world in which the ancient
notions of transcendence (heavens, hells, after-
lives, blood sacrifice, belief in the supernatural)
are irrelevant to post-humans, trans-humans, and
perhaps, due to the knowledge that imparts, to all
of humankind seeking to become a part of that
world of expanded potential for longevity and
pleasure in this one certain life we all share?

The following excerpts from a Washington Post
article might lead one to ponder what will become
of religion as society advances on an exponential
scale towards a future in which humanity itself may
become so far removed from present limitations
that ancient notions of god(s) cease to impart any
degree of comfort, fear, or pertinence.

In addition to the following, advances in physics
and in our understanding of nature may also impart
knowledge putting to rest any consideration that
the proposed other-worldly concepts of religions
are consistent with the nature of life, matter, energy,
the universe, and the forces at play in an absolutely
naturalistic cosmos ...

---
Friday, April 26, 2002
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A50958-2002Apr25.html
---

--- begin excerpts ---

... Will human nature itself change? Will we soon pass
some point where we are so altered by our imaginations
and inventions as to be unrecognizable to Shakespeare
or the writers of the ancient Greek plays?

No one knows, but many are trying to imagine such a
world. They describe our children and grandchildren as
no longer really being like us. They call them trans-human,
or post-human. They see our lives changing more dramat-
ically in the next few decades than in most of recorded
history. And who knows? Perhaps they are right.

... "Life in 2015 will be revolutionized by the growing
effect of technology across all dimensions of life: social,
economic, political, and personal," a recent Rand National
Defense Research Institute report for the National Intelli-
gence Council says. "The results could be astonishing."

First up: the ability to "manipulate, improve, and control
living organisms (including ourselves)."

Not only is research underway to "create new, free-living
organisms," but work is underway to " 'improve' the human
species . . .

These will be very controversial developments -- among
the most controversial in the entire history of mankind,"
the National Intelligence Council report says.

A recent Science magazine cover story was titled "Body-
building: The Bionic Human." There were articles about
growing hearts, livers, blood, skin, bones, veins, tendons,
and bladders from scratch, and on regenerating injured
spinal cord.

There was a section on direct nerve-to-computer connec-
tions merging man and machine in ways that allow people
to control artificial limbs with their brains.

... Computerized cochlear implants wired to nerve fibers
today allow the profoundly deaf to hear, leading to the
next generation of electrode implants to the brainstem.

Then there are the electrode arrays that activate the retina,
optic nerve, or even the visual cortex itself, offering hope
for the blind to see.

These come on the heels of recent accomplishments in
transplanting pig neurons into humans with Parkinson's
disease, and hand and larynx transplants.

Antidotes to aging are becoming big business.

George Roth, chief of molecular physiology and genetics
at the National Institute on Aging, counts some 40 recent
scientist-run start-ups seeking to reverse aging. Not stop
aging, but reverse it. Most of these companies are looking
for life-extending genes.

... William Haseltine of Human Genome Sciences in Rock-
ville thinks stem cells will ultimately prove the route to vir-
tual immortality, predicting that it will one day be possible
to "reseed the body with our own cells that are made more
potent and younger, so we can repopulate the body."

... What shakes our human nature about all this is not just
how exotic it is. It's how fast it's coming. It makes the last
20 years a guide not to the next 20 years but at best the
next eight.

... "The revolutionary effects of biotechnology may be the
most startling. Collective breakthroughs should improve
both the quality and length of human life. . . . There will be
no turning back, however, since some societies will avail
themselves of the revolution, and globalization will thus
change the environment in which each society lives. The
world is in for significant change."

The question is whether we are creating alterations to our-
selves that will fundamentally change human nature.

... There doesn't seem to be much standing in the way of
this transcendence of human nature occurring in your life-
time -- 20 to 50 years from now. That's the one thing on
which everyone who looks at this compounding curve of
change agrees.

"The remaining human future is 25 years or 50 years," says
Max More, president of the Extropy Institute, a pioneering
explorer of the acceleration of technology and trans-human-
ism.

... This weekend in Silicon Valley, Kurzweil is scheduled to
debate Gregory Stock, author of "Redesigning Humans: Our
Inevitable Genetic Future," and director of the UCLA Pro-
gram on Medicine, Technology and Society.

Stock foresees "widespread reworking of human biology via
genetic engineering -- neither governments nor religious groups
will be able to stop this" in the next few decades, says Chris-
tine Petersen, president of the Foresight Institute running the
program.

... "Kurzweil agrees with Stock that the biogenetic changes
he foresees will take place, but believes that we will also see
profound integration of our biological systems with nonbio-
logical intelligence," enabling routine integration of machines
and the brain by 2030.

By 2040, the nonbiological portion will be far more powerful
than the biological portion: We will have become cyborgs,
Kurzweil argues.

What none of these authors is disputing is the notion that
"as exponential growth continues to accelerate into the first
half of the twenty-first century," as Kurzweil puts it, "it will
appear to explode into infinity, at least from the limited and
linear perspective of contemporary humans," resulting in
"technological change so rapid and so profound that it repre-
sents a rupture in the fabric of human history."

Imagine a world some decades away in which a significant
chunk of the population is beyond human because it has
been genetically altered.

... There are three scenarios, says Peter Schwartz, chairman
of the scenario planning firm Global Business Network.

In the first, the secrets of human consciousness and the
human brain elude us, and change is stately.

In the second, incremental change continues to accelerate,
aging is reversed, the revolution has occurred, and we are
just trying to deal with the consequences.

In the third, new intelligent species roam the Earth in 20 or
30 years, some of them mainly flesh and blood and some
of them mainly not.

In whichever case, what we're talking about here is tran-
scendence -- becoming separate from or going beyond
the gritty world we've always known.

The Extropy Institute's Max More says that his interest in
the subject started "with a recognition of the undesirable
limitations of human nature. And an understanding that
science and technology were essential keys to overcoming
human nature's confines."

His journey started when "I saw very clearly how limited
are human beings in their wisdom, in their intellectual and
emotional development, and in their sensory and physical
capabilities," he says in a Web conversation with Kurzweil.

"After an early-teens interest in what I'll loosely call (with
mild embarrassment) 'psychic stuff,' as I came to learn
more science and critical thinking, I ceased to give any
credence to psychic phenomena, as well as to any tradi-
tional religious views. With these paths to any form of
transcendence closed, I realized that transhumanity (as
I began to think of it) would only be achieved through
science and technology steered by human values."

Particularly significant to him was the period he spent
teaching evolution to college students. It led him to
"resonate to Nietzsche's declaration that 'Man is a rope,
fastened between animal and overman -- a rope over an
abyss . . . What is great in man is that he is a bridge and
not a goal.' A bridge, not a goal. That nicely summarizes
a transhumanist perspective."

In a Web discussion on Edge.com, Kurzweil says: "To
me that is what human civilization is all about. It is part
of our destiny and part of the destiny of evolution to
continue to progress ever faster, and to grow the power
of intelligence exponentially.

To contemplate stopping that -- to think human beings
are fine the way they are -- is a misplaced fond remem-
brance of what human beings used to be.

"What human beings are is a species that has undergone
a cultural and technological evolution, and it's the nature
of evolution that it accelerates, and that its powers grow
exponentially, and that's what we're talking about."

And, Kurzweil says:

"What is unique about human beings is our ability to
create abstract models and to use these mental models
to understand the world and do something about it. . . .
This ability to scale up the power of our own civilization
is what's unique about human beings." ...

--- end excerpts ---