Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Do You Want to Live Forever? (PT 1)

The film works on so many levels and can therefore in principle be enjoyable, even for Technology Review style detractors. For example, the accompanying footage of Ray Kurzweil, (performing as his female rock star avatar), was so unexpected and unusual that I wasn't sure at first whether to laugh or cry.

It would be good though to gain a fuller understanding of where de Grey would situate himself with respect to the ideal of democratic transhumanism propounded by the likes of James Hughes. Sadly, this is all I could find today. That said, there may be some merit insofar as the piece at least clarifies a few telling differences. I found this quote especially interesting:

While Hughes treats the "Christian right" as an enemy of progress, de Grey calmly suggests how it would be logical for them to join the quest for human betterment. First off, he notes, "God is not in favor of hastening death." Indeed, it is a sin to kill others or to kill yourself.

Second, de Grey points out, "God is also not in favor of apathy." It is a sin to refuse to help someone when you have the means to do so. For example, if someone is suffering from Alzheimer's, as was President Reagan, other humans have a duty to try to repair his injuries. That's what ultimately swayed Nancy Reagan who is now in favor of stem cell research.

De Grey also pointed out that while President Bush "is not the world's most progressive person," even he sees that "we should always err on the side of life." Hughes never reached these nuanced points, which clearly help to make the tent bigger, because his cause is not human life. Instead, his driving force is what he calls "personhood."

That is, those who are self-aware and have desires are considered persons. According to him, this means they should be allowed to live and be aided in that process. But for those who are non-persons, they should either be ignored or sentenced to die.

Hughes's definition of persons includes adult humans (enhanced or not), children, mentally disabled humans, and great apes (which he aspires to intellectually enhance). His definition of those who have the right not to suffer, but not the right to life, includes fetuses, fish, and permanently vegetative humans. In a third category, he places brain-dead humans, embryos, plants, and toasters -- to him, these are all "property."

Scarily then, Hughes comes across like Peter Singer (trying to marry the Left to Darwin), while de Grey, in this instance anyway, seems closer to Steve Fuller's effort to tease out the progressive implications of Intelligent Design by collectively harnessing the power to become our own intelligent designers (rather than leaving the outcome to capricious evolutionary forces or God's will "moving in mysterious ways").

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