Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mormon Transhumanism Conference--Paper Presented

At the recent Mormon Transhumanist Association Conference, I presented my paper: "How Amazing is Grace: The Role of Jesus Christ in Mormonism and Transhumanism.

There was actually very little time for question or discussion with any of the talks, but I was pleased and somewhat surprised by the general respect for my perspective and even several positive comments about my talk.  Even the guest keynote speaker, Giulio Prisco, former board member and director of the World Transhumanist Association, told me he really appreciated my remarks.

I thought that was a bit odd because of how generally critical I was of some aspects of transhumanism.

But then as the conference progressed and I experienced the incredible diversity of thought and ideas, I found myself in a culture of people who seemed to like different perspectives, who openly disagreed with each other without getting upset.  I wasn't the only speaker with criticism of transhumanist perspectives, yet all reasonable views were welcomed.

The topics were incredibly diverse:  Some I disagreed with strongly, others I thought were pointless philosophizing about things not scientifically measurable, and some I learned a lot from and took copious notes. 

The format of 10-minute presentations with 1-minute Q&A kept things moving pretty quickly from one idea to the next, but didn't allow for a lot of discussion. That's why I especially enjoyed visiting at lunch and dinner with some people who had some extremely diverse perspectives.

It seems to be a group of mostly techie-type people interested in philosophizing about possibilities, and exploring the merger between science and religion, but without much unified agreement on specifics of transhumanism.  Even among people who call themselves "transhumanists," they're mostly just interested in scientific discovery, not necessarily all promoting human solutions to the resurrection.  They loved to visit with each other and learn from each other, but aren't really unified enough to form any kind of significant movement.

I still struggle to see how transhumanism adds significant additional value to people who already openly embrace science as strongly as many, perhaps most, Mormons do, and I'm much more interested in the practical matters of science and technology solving current world problems than in philosophical discussions of what might happen many decades to come.


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Vblogger.

  2. Vblogger, thanks for sharing your thoughts here and for being willing to participate in the conference. I'm really glad you felt welcome and appreciated.

    I wonder if you are limiting your definition of "transhumanism" too narrowly. In a general sense, transhumanism is any use of technology to enhance humans. The first caveman to put on a protective covering of animal hide in order to extend the capabilities of his skin was a transhumanist. While immortality and resurrection are long term goals (perhaps VERY long term), the Transhumanist Declaration and the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation are also concerned with immediate challenges regarding the progression of science and ethical policymaking.

    I would say that people who already embrace science are, by definition, transhumanists--so that the question you should be asking isn't really what value transhumanism adds, but what value an association of transhumanists adds. I think that as the ethical challenges of emerging technologies become more apparent, the value of associations like ours will also become more evident.

    I think it may be a bit premature to say that the MTA "remains" an obscure group. I'm not sure at what point an organization ceases to be obscure, but I think the MTA has seen impressive growth since its inception. I don't know that it will ever develop into something that could be called a "movement," but our numbers have been growing steadily, and we have been attracting the attention of rather influential Mormons, and non-Mormon transhumanists.

  3. Nathan--I hope you noted from the tone of the post that my openning comments about the "dark side" and "enemy territory" were tongue-in cheek.

    The conference actually was a good experience and a helpful activity for those involved. I was impressed with the way it developed relationships with some people who would otherwise perhaps never come in contact with Mormons in a close way.

    One thing I have learned, as you put it, is the wide breadth of perspectives among people who call themselves transhumanists. And you're right, defined broadly as "any use of technology to enhance humans," I'm definitely a transhumanist--as would every human on earth.

    I setup this blog only to respond to the extreme long-term goals of only a small subset of transhumanists: resurrection and exaltation. And transhumanists who are not Christians would find almost all of my arguments meaningless.

    You're right, the MTA is well-organized and has been growing, and does seem to contribute something meaningful to the discussion of religion and science. It can continue to do so without becoming "widespread."

    I would suspect a substantial percentage of LDS people are interested in the relationship among science, technology, and religion.

    Probably far fewer would be interested in promoting these as tools to enable resurrection and exaltation. When I suspect it's unlikely to be a "widespread movement," meaning at least a few percent of LDS members, I'm referring to that samll subset of transhumanist goals that seem less likely to interest a substantial portion of mainstream LDS people.