5 December 2014

The Spirit of Progress

. @dirkbruere. #LOrdre. #MONT. #GZDNE. #Transhumanism. #Spirituality.

The interplay of science and matters of spirit is at the heart of change in the world today. As bloggers and catalysts for change, we in the Mont Order like to consider the interplay of the domains of science and spirit as well as their misguided state of conflict, and our findings have been constructive.

Through a 2012 booklet called The Praxis, noted technology enthusiast and Order participant Dirk Conrad Bruere presents a valuable thesis for what he terms as “the most important spiritual movement in history”: the advocacy of technological solutions to remedy all suffering in the world. This is known as the abolitionist cause among bioethicists, championed largely by philosopher David Pearce, and part of the more controversial and often-maligned transhumanist movement.

Dirk’s booklet offers an important contribution to the global conversations on faith, science, medicine and reason. It gives formulations of soul and spirit on a rational, purely philosophical basis and advocates that more modernistic forms of religious belief and practice can be developed based on these understandings rather than firm convictions that supernatural powers exist. Dirk writes that “what are thought of as purely material things and processes such as science and technology inevitably have a spiritual dimension.”

The aims of transhumanism are boldly introduced by Dirk as “the advocacy of the use of technology to increase intelligence, expand consciousness, enhance our physical bodies, increase empathy and ultimately abolish all suffering and death from the entire universe.” This may seem unrealistic and untenable to many, but transhumanists posit routes to this seemingly messianic outcome using practicable science and technology that is predicted to be in its early stages in coming decades. Transhumanists, therefore, seek to achieve some of the high spiritual aims of religion using purely material means.

Transhumanism, Dirk writes, is a science-based movement and yet it enters the domains traditionally held by spirituality and religion in profound ways. It is difficult to separate some of the radical predictions of transhumanism from similar ideals of life, death, deity and the destiny of the universe held by major religions. Transhumanism can be understood to be a profound spiritual movement despite its reliance on technology. It is “the greatest philosophical and technological movement Humanity will ever produce”, and “the Great Work of this century.”

What The Praxis advocates is the use of breakthroughs in science and technology as a potential motor of a new kind of faith-based moral system: a system fitting for modernity and reliant on the tangible forces, workers and machines that are already set in motion today. Through these tangible forces, we can seek “escape velocity” from limited resources and mortality by creating thinking machines more equipped to solve our problems than we are. The idea of relying on these prospective benevolent supreme beings to resolve human affairs has profound spiritual ramifications, since it would be indistinguishable from humanity effectively creating the gods.

Another mention of God in The Praxis comes where it describes the “totality of divine powers”, understood in the Order as the source from which we divine the “Great Work” attributed in religious language to God. The prediction of the “artilects”, artificial intelligences far exceeding human thought and ingenuity, makes the emergence of seemingly divine agents in the world possible, according to traditional religious understandings of the world.

The divine-level intellects created through the computers of tomorrow may even be involved in judging our lives someday, in much the way gods were anticipated to do. As such, “we should be looking over our collective shoulder and consider the possibility that we may ultimately be held accountable by our own creations.” Dirk also compares the use of cryonics to preserve the dead, another futuristic practice pursued by transhumanists, with ancient funerary practices in which the dead were mummified for discovery and resurrection by similar divine beings.

Also of religious significance is the transhumanist ambition to preserve and salvage whole human minds through sophisticated computer technology of the future. This is commonly referred to among futurists as mind-uploading. The Praxis concurs with one detractor of transhumanism that this outcome might achieve the “final goal of the Gnostics”, enabling humans to liberate themselves entirely from the constraints of the physical world to exist in a purely ideal realm.

In response to the transhumanist movement’s many fearful detractors, Dirk states that transhumanists “seek to voluntarily extend everything that makes us Human in the first place”, rather than threatening our humanity. The Praxis rises to the challenge of offering an ethical framework, to the level of detail necessary to constitute a religious tradition, on the spirituality of transhumanism.

With its advocacy that we must employ technology to achieve humanity’s noblest spiritual aim to “transform ourselves into Beings that transcend the merely human”, The Praxis offers an excellent starting point for learning about transhumanism itself. It is of particular value to people who may have held faith-based objections to transhumanism’s abolition of suffering and death through material means. Dirk’s Praxis, and the works of the Zero State movement he is helping to pioneer, could not be more greatly aligned with the Order.

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