Zoltan Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager Is A Choice We’ll All Have To Make

The-Transhumanist-WagerWhile I personally loved the first half of The Transhumanist Wager and disliked much of the second, I am convinced that the novel is a must read for anyone interested in the future of our civilization.

In my view the novel is full of interesting and controversial contradictions. For example, on the one hand Zoltan Istvan is a philosophically sophisticated author using elements from Plato’s Republic, Nietzsche’s Overman (Übermensch), Thomas Moore’s Utopia, Zen Buddhism and other eastern and western philosophies. On the other hand Zoltan has chosen to give us a kind of simplistic, Atlas Shrugged-style of a plot in its black-and-white depiction of an evil government and the lone hero who dares to stand up to it. Regardless of my personal views, however, I enjoyed reading the book and believe that it does a good job of mapping out the dangerous period that our civilization will have to navigate in the next several decades.

During my interview with Zoltan Istvan we cover a variety of topics such as: what is the Transhumanist Wager; how and why he got interested in transhumanism; his protagonist Jethro Knights and some autobiographical elements of the novel; the potential for conflict between transhumanists and anti-transhumanists; Ayn Rand, objectivism and their impact on the Transhumanist Wager; competition, human nature and death; transhumanism and the technological singularity; the ideal state of Transhumania and the price we have to pay to accomplish it…

My favorite quote that I will take away from Zoltan Istvan is “Morality is often defined by the amount of time we have left.”

(As always you can listen to or download the audio file above, or scroll down and watch the video interview in full.  If you want to help me produce more episodes please make a donation)

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About the Author:

Zoltan_IstvanAt the age of 21, American-Hungarian Zoltan Istvan began a solo, multi-year sailing journey around the world. His main cargo was 500 handpicked books, mostly classics. He’s explored over 100 countries—many as a journalist for the National Geographic Channel—writing, filming, and appearing in dozens of television stories, articles, and webcasts.

His work has also been featured by The New York Times Syndicate, Outside, San Francisco Chronicle, BBC Radio, NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, Animal Planet, and the Travel Channel. In addition to his award-winning coverage of the war in Kashmir, he gained worldwide attention for pioneering and popularizing the extreme sport of volcano boarding. Zoltan later became a director for the international conservation group WildAid, leading armed patrol units to stop the billion-dollar illegal wildlife trade in Southeast Asia. Back in America, he started various successful businesses, from real estate development to filmmaking to viticulture, joining them under ZI Ventures. He is a philosophy and religious studies graduate of Columbia University and resides in San Francisco with his daughter and physician wife.

 

  • advancedatheist

    3:25 or so.Yes, these “conversion” experiences to transhumanism do happen. I had that experience when I read Bob Ettinger’s book Man Into Superman in the summer of 1974. I was 14 years old and interested in “bionics” from the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man. I found a paperback copy of Bob’s book at the local drug store, and noticed that it dealt with human enhancements like the ones in that TV series. So I bought it and read it right away. Some of us got to this party before you were born, Zoltan, but we welcome you any way.

  • advancedatheist

    Socrates: I called Zoltan’s novel “The Atlas Shrugged of transhumanism,” not Max More.

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    Thanks for the clarification friend! I know that Max More did so too though I am not sure if he read an early version of the book or not…

  • advancedatheist

    BTW, regarding your upcoming interview with Jacque Fresco: I talked to Fresco on the phone a few times in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and he seems like a living fossil from the mid 20th Century’s paleofuture. He came of age when a lot of intellectuals thought they could centrally plan everything, re-engineer the human mind through environmental, social and possibly eugenic means, and make the world better, like in that cool utopian civilization called the Soviet Union. Fresco shares that outlook and apparently hasn’t learned anything from the failures of these experiments.

    I think cognitive science has given us a better understanding of human nature now, and it tends to support conservatives’ tragic vision of the limits of human plasticity (at least until we can get the bio-engineering to work). I don’t see how anyone can take Fresco as a serious thinker when he has demonstrably wrong foundational assumptions about human nature.

    You can see Fresco’s naive utopianism in this book he published in 1969, with Kenneth S. Keyes, Jr., title Looking Forward:

    http://thevenusproject.com/downloads/ebooks/Looking-Forward-v2.pdf

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    Thanks for the reference friend, I myself do share some of your concerns about Fresco’s central planning ideas and, as usually, intend to ask him tough question about that…

  • http://www.scribd.com/Sally%20Morem Sally Morem

    It is almost never a case of either/or competition and cooperation. Every single economic act involves elements of both. If you form a business, you must get cooperation from vendors, employees, and customers to make a go of it. Even wars involve elements of intense competition and cooperation.

    The much more interesting question is whether accelerating tech will stimulate wholly voluntary forms of cooperation or enforced, hierarchical cooperation as we get closer and closer to the technological singularity. If anyone has read my FB comments, I’ve made myself clear: I believe accelerating tech is right now permitting far more decentralization, and therefore voluntary cooperation, over the ages-old centralized version.

    On human nature: We certainly do have a human nature. It involves human limitations in every dimension of our lives. We can only learn a certain amount of knowledge at a certain rate. We can only know a certain number of people over a certain period of time. We can only go to a certain amount of meetings before our calendar fills. We can only go so long without eating, drinking, sleeping, breathing. We are severely restricted in our range of livable environments. Our emotional range is limited to what our biological inheritance has left to us. Lots of other limits.

    Perhaps upcoming body and brain augments and eventually mind-uploading will radically change some or all of these limits, but these haven’t occurred yet. One could argue that our technology has already permitted us to overcome earlier limits (flying, living in cold climates, driving, etc.) but these advances have revealed much more severe limits. I believe all of these biological limits and more lie at the core of every single tradition and institution we humans have implemented over the ages. And I believe every single religious and political movement that urged upon us various utopias made exactly the same mistake in overlooking or dismissing these limitations. They all crashed and burned on the reefs and sandbars of human nature.

  • Zoltan Istvan

    Hi Sally,

    Thanks for your comments above. They’re eloquent and interesting. I’m looking forward to reading some of your other writings now. Thanks and cheers, Zoltan

  • advancedatheist

    So if you consider the Transhumanist Wager a practical philosophy for life, how do you operationalize it? You wake up Monday morning of next week and have on your agenda the goal of living according to the Transhumanist Wager starting that very day. What, specifically, could you do which would make make this more than an exercise in make-believe or magical thinking?

  • http://www.scribd.com/Sally%20Morem Sally Morem

    I’d say find ways to push accelerating tech as hard as you can. If you have money, invest in 3-D printers or some other cutting edge tech. If you’re a scientist or engineer, beat the bushes for jobs in one of the leading fields. If you’re a writer, write about it. If an artist, try to capture and portray impressions of what you think it will be like. Find an angle based on your abilities and interests.

  • advancedatheist

    If you have money, invest in 3-D printers or some other cutting edge tech.

    The 3-D printer fad doesn’t impress me. We already have a system for making cheap stuff called “the Chinese sweatshop.” I would instead look for where the highest-end human capital tends to accumulate, except in finance, which has gotten increasingly parasitic on the real economy, and see if you can invest there.

    On the social level, we also need to pay a lot more attention to demographic and immigration trends which affect national IQ levels. Silicon Valley doesn’t “look like America,” much less “look like California,” for some objective reasons. I suspect that America’s space program probably got the ax around the time that the diversity ideology because official U.S. policy because it had too many white men who rose into positions of responsibility through cognitive ability and self development, often coming from the gutter like Homer Hickam. Their examples raised inconvenient questions about the abilities of other groups in the U.S.

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  • http://www.LimitlessMindset.com/ Jonathan Roseland

    If I’m understanding correctly in Transhumania procreation is a privilege not a right. This is topic I’ve had some spirited debates about recently. I’ve spent this year in Central and South America, in this part of the world, there is a fairly big problem with teenage pregnancy and fathers who don’t support their children. Over a few beers with my fellow travelers I’ve often debated the benefits of countries in this part of the world simply socializing birth control – all young men get a vasectomy (or equivalent surgeries that are less expensive and less invasive), when they have demonstrated themselves as being responsible enough they get it reversed. Essentially making procreation a privilege, not a right and solving the massive social problems caused by unwanted children being born to dis-responsible parents. Your thoughts?

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    The problems are always the same:

    First off, it is ethically problematic because it goes against personal freedom and basic human rights of self-determination and freedom over one’s own body.

    Secondly, the same system that is supposed to free people often, perhaps almost always, ends up being abused and ends up enslaving them.

    That is the second issue – how unrealistic do you think it is to expect that those governments, people and organizations who are implementing the sterilization process in those very corrupt countries will end up using and abusing the system for their own good?!…

    If you ask me – I would say it is guaranteed – 100% chance it will happen. So, you would not only fail to resolve the problem you hoped to address but would have created a new one, equally bad as the original issue…

  • http://lukeparrish.rationalsites.com Luke Parrish

    Isn’t this mostly a technical problem — vasectomies and other forms of “sterilization” being overly hard to reverse? Nobody complains that condoms and birth control pills are being abused by government to their own ends, mostly people complain that they aren’t the default and have to be used deliberately to get the desired result. Isn’t sufficiently reversible sterilization indistinguishable from birth control?

  • advancedatheist

    Zoltan might have a point about the coming culture war over transhumanism. Dan Brown(!) has written a novel which apparently shows transhumanism in a bad light:

    http://cosmiclog.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/14/18236528-in-dan-browns-inferno-numeric-riddles-and-controversial-science-mix?lite

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/14/dan-browns-inferno-author_n_3272871.html

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    Very interesting reference – I have to see that interview…

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