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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.


The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Nature Vs. Nurture and Other Misnomers -- AL, Bio, CPS, Psych

While discussing our usual ideas about expanding human potential last year on the Imagestream list, a version of the old nature vs. nurture question came up... This time discussing a huge area affecting human ability -- "innate curiosity, anxiety and arousal, introversion/extroversion, obsessiveness, mania -- all those things that are at least partly heritable and which all influence intelligence to a degree."

This discussion took us away from our usual commentaries on exercises such as monitoring your sidebands of awareness, accelerating learning with Borrowed Genius, the Gravity Position, held-breath underwater swimming, methods for boosting circulation to the brain (from visualization to putting your feet up), etc.

So of course, I had to comment...

"In my opinion, this is probably the hardest area to judge in the 'nature vs. nurture' debate. A great part of my belief in 'nurture' as a potentially stronger factor in intelligence doesn't have to do with how you were raised but how you decide to act. In other words, if you're an obsessive reader and writer, you're far more likely to be a writer than someone with a greater 'natural gift' for language who doesn't take much interest in the written word. Self-evident? Of course.

"But since we can't determine to what degree the impulse to become obsessively absorbed in your work (or art/ writing/ research/ inventions) is inherited, it's still hard to give any kind of definitive conclusion about which aspect of our nature influences humans the most."

Some would argue that the studies of twins reared apart show that while environmental factors have big consequesnces early on, these differences fade with time. And hence, they suggest, while a horrible environment can be crippling, the positive effects of a good environment -- loving parents, SES, literature present, etc have diminishing returns when effecting achievement and intelligence -- the better the environment, the less effect it will have.

I answered...

"Here's where I would differ. I think the positive effects of a good environment can be quite profound -- they simply aren't in most cases, so kids from relatively positive environments are usually bright and/or well adjusted, not necessarily earthshaking geniuses. I believe people can be given enormous advantages if you know how, however, and more importantly, they can actively change themselves. Why don't people try to be as smart as they can be? Or as rich, fit, good-looking or successful? This isn't a question of why people run into walls at the (theoretical) upper limits of their abilities, but why they don't make the effort in the first place. I think you need more than genetics to answer that one."

Many people are willing to accept the negative influence an environment can have. Households below the poverty line which add in the prenatal effects of drug use/ smoking/ alcohol and then perhaps some criminal role models - then yes, most people will admit that a "getting hit over the head with a lead pipe environment" can seriously affect your future prospects. But that still doesn't say anything about the good that better, more nurturing homes can offer.

So I said something myself. "To equal such an environment in a positive sense is (supposedly) very difficult. But honestly, when I was growing up, I was writing stories in my head constantly -- and then acting them out. I had an entire band of (imaginary) shapeshifting sentient supercomputers (actually sentient black holes with perfect control over their gravitational fields and faster than light processing speeds) serving as my actors, musicians, stage managers (they could reconstruct galaxies, so Middle Earth or the Federation was never a problem), FX guys (see previous parathetical comment), directors, auxiliary writers... and also my techs, consultants, researchers, confidants and all around source of feedback and 'non-traditional' information. And as a result of my interactions, I was constantly writing whole novels, plays, movies, comics, albums and TV shows. And why not?

"But as a result, I was highly imaginative as a child and teen, and frequently saw the world very differently than others (who did not, after all, have an optional overlay of alternative worlds in their visual fields, or a reality-warping troop of guards declaiming about their Purpose and using artificial worlds as paperweights). But then, I had a sister who started me off on all-embracing live-action acting/role-playing, I lived out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do but read and describe fictional realities to my fictional support staff (I'd say writing, also, but I had poor hand-eye coordination and didn't write too quickly) and had a tendency to sit with my feet up against the raised backs of the seats in front of me on the bus for much of the interminable rides (which went as long as four hours before the end). I also had a habit of looking at the world from the physical perspective of the various characters I was reading about, especially if I decided to model or role-play them afterwards (effectively using Borrowed Genius). I listened to some of my sidebands of awareness because there was, after all, nothing else to do.

"Sometimes I'd even get so bored I'd hold my breath, just to see how long I could. A few times I even ran like that, to test my wind. During the one year we had to take P.E. in High School, we spent about half the time indoors, which I spent almost exclusively on Ping Pong. (They did force a little basketball on us, but it was North Carolina, after all.) And during all this time I continued to 'read-saturate-read.' All the way through my senior year.

"My point? I have reason to believe that at the time, at least, my mind was highly unusual in its creative capacities, and probably owing, to a large degree, to the experiences I inflicted on myself. Now imagine someone doing all of that, and more than that (I haven't described my every unusual mental quirk, by any means) and then adding in floatation tanks. Image Streaming to live partners. Borrowed Genius, Beachhead, Toolbuilder. Dr. Wenger's brainbuilding marathon. Perhaps even nootropics or other experimental technologies (whatever you think is best). My impression is that you could create an incredibly positive environment for yourself, or someone else equally devoted. But this motivation, and the strategies to exercise it, cannot be merely an inborn gift. You have to choose it for yourself."

My partner in this three-way debate commented, "Yet if your view of environment is as a more tempered, typical role models versus intellectual role models, I would say that you are wrong. Part of the stickiest problem with nature versus nurture is this blurry conception of environment as absolute worst to best home and the blurry concept of genes as merely being the 'engine' of g rather than also including the conglomeration of personal traits -- all highly heritable that affect achievement yet are considered a result of upbringing."

A good point, I might add...

Still, I felt compelled to argue, "But I think you also see homes on the lower bound of what's possible far more often than the upper (if such even exist). So there are far more hopeless dropouts, criminals and drug addicts than there are Teslas, da Vincis or Ramanujans. But that doesn't mean these hyper-positive alternatives are not possible, or that they're not what we should be shooting for."

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Who Wants a Flying Car? -- CPS, Soc, Tech

And from CBS News, Flying Cars Ready To Take Off , a four-page web article on the flying car prototypes floating around out there (no pun intended =) ). Apparently, thanks to NASA's Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS), we'll have the basic infrastructure and technology to accomodate such small vehicles throughout America's airspace (aside from restricted airspace, of course). Think about how much America would be changed if everyone who now drives instead had access to a reliable, easily-flown car that soared at up to 400 miles per hour.

Actually, this news spurs two thoughts in my mind. One, how many revolutionary technologies would we have emerging right now if everyone in America, the EU, Japan or elsewhere were generating new innovations all the time. What could a new, clean, cheap energy source do for us? A new way to design computers that evaded the physical limits to Moore's Law? A simple way to permanently enhance human intelligence? Etc?

And two, how awesome would it be if those inventors were also skilled at exploiting their inventions economically (or as great shareware projects) and if the government and society were effective at adapting to/adopting them. How many more "flying car revolutions" could we see? Every day?

Future Imperative

Survey: Human Evolution -- the Near Future... -- All Except Easy, Gov, Hum, Plan, Rev, SF, SKiP and Super

Here’s a question I’ve asked in other forms in other venues, but which I think is useful to consider carefully.

Which of the following methods do you think is most likely to lead to radically improved human beings (or sentient beings) in the next 30 years?

Nootropic (intelligence enhancing) drugs

Nootropic nutrients, and/or improved diet, exercise and general health

Genetic engineering of new children

Gene therapy that can modify adults

Cybernetics/surgical modification

Longevity/immortality treatments

Any other biotech that could enhance/repair the body or brain (such as stem cells, over-expressing growth-stimulating proteins in the brain, the use of field effects, peptides, etc. for resequencing of proteins, etc)

Artificial Intelligence


Widespread study of challenging fields that require great discipline and/or ability (anything from martial arts to Socratic debate to spontaneously composing poetry in public to conventional athletics)

Society highly conducive to the emergence and nurturing of genius (perhaps superior to ancient Athens or Italian cities in the Renaissance)


Floatation tanks

Other machines designed to enhance the brain (ganzfelds, cranial electro-stimulation, photic and auditory brainwave driving, etc)

Accelerated learning techniques (speed reading, mnemonic tools, Borrowed Genius, etc)

Creativity and/or intelligence boosting techniques (Image Streaming, Provocative Operations (PO), brainstorming, lateral thinking, Beachhead, Toolbuilder, meditation, etc)

Alternative healing techniques

Putting people under incredibly stressful, dangerous conditions, and seeing how they adapt (as in Dune and most of Frank Herbert's other works)

A huge increase in the wealth of a substantial number of people.

The study/practice of psi effects

Some mystical/magical method

Some fanatical subculture or organization completely focused on improving the abilities of its members

The eclectic use of whatever "seems to work" on the above list (a bit of this and a bit of that)

A widespread realization that some or all of these methods of self-improvement exist

A widespread fear that if you don't keep up with other radically-improved people, you'll be obsolete

One respondent commented, “My worst concern in your list is the fanatical subculture ororganization - that could happen all too easily.”

To which I replied…

“My desire to see the public substantially improve itself is not completely selfless. The more capable, self-reliant, intelligent and difficult-to-manipulate the public becomes, the harder it is for any unnaturally bright individual to play games with them. What's more, hundreds of millions or even billions of united human beings of exceptional intelligence would have almost unimaginable resources to throw at their problems. Which means they could snuff out many classic threats to their well-being -- bio- or nuclear terrorism, warfare, economic instability, "natural" disasters, destructive fads/addictions, political manipulation, brain-washing cults, etc.

"Imagine what a united world could do, especially with just a fraction of the resources we casually fiddle with on this list. Imagine being able to throw a hundred thousand scientists at a single problem -- especially if they could Beachhead, High Thinktank and/or Over-the-Wall their way out of that problem. Imagine all those minds casually tapping all that genius at once. Now imagine a world in which all the billions of ‘commoners’ outside the scientific profession also had access to those problem-solving tools.

"Suddenly the threat of a powerful cabal or an insane demi-god no longer seems so pressing, does it? =) If we get to this stage, that is.

"Otherwise, general progress on these matters has been so slow that a small group could easily lurch in this direction with nothing to counter it. Self-interest, self-aggrandizement, a charismatic leader, economic or political bonds -- there are quite a few reasons why a small company, club or research project could go awry. And all the more reason for the rest of us to get going on our own evolution.”

My friend also said, “Efforts to prohibit most of this will be increasingly questioned and will lead in turn to bootlegging, with some real human costs as well as some human benefits. Enough of this is already happening that we are going to be redefining what it is to be a human being, over at least the next half century. We went through an era inideologies where the collective ‘we’ were willing to tear the planet apart over mere differences in economic theory. In this we will be debating the very stuff of what it is to be ourself and what it is to be a human being.”

To which I felt compelled to remark…

“Indeed, ‘bio-conservatives’ have already mobilized against the idea of improving humans. I suspect that creating a fuss on this point may be counterproductive for their cause -- most people, if they had the option of being healthier, stronger, smarter, faster, better looking, younger, etc with no particular drawbacks, would choose to improve their lot. A lot of storm and noise at this point is only going to draw the public's attentionto the concept. Though the idea seems to be to cut off all funding for human enhancement research (including research into inherited health problems), no matter how impractical that may seem.”

I’ll add that I’m staying out of this particular fight, though I suspect that once a general idea of what enhancement technologies can do leaks out, the entire debate will be utterly beside the point.

My friend also added, “We could take the sting out of that by making more progress in the above-mentioned methodological fields where reactions would be tempered by the consideration that one's own efforts have some bearing on advantaged outcome, not riding entirely with some ‘magic pill.’ If these fields remain blocked in their progress, we are headed into a most troublesome path.”

And what could I say, other than…

“Quite frankly, I suspect we'll have rapid breakthroughs in a number of fields. But if we only derived ‘superhumans’ from one or two routes such as ‘superbabies’ and gene therapy, and those methods could be restricted to a chosen few based on political power or economic resources, we could easily end up with a nightmarish scenario and an elite ‘born to rule.’ Yet another reason to develop all our resources now, in order to uplift everyone in the near future.”

He also commented, “PS - don't reflexively believe, nor reflexively discard, the above predictions. Go take a look for yourself, either from conventional linear evidence or en scenario modeled on our "Beachhead" and "Toolbuilder" procedures…”

(Yes, my counterpart in this exchange was Dr. Win Wenger.)

My reply, in its essence, was…

“Believe me, I don't disregard anything. Though it's not something I talk about, my personal experiences/observations (mainly from my youth) have convinced me that a lone genius could easily have vast influence over the world without anyone really knowing. Unless more of us are truly able to ‘think for ourselves,’ we'll be at the mercy of any such individual or small group that chooses to play games with the planet. I don't like the idea of sitting around waiting for some flake of a super-savant to turn the worldinside out, or trying to pre-empt such a power grab with one of their own.

"Such actions are inherently corrupting, and I agree with Dr. Wenger that if human beings learn to tap their most basic creative gifts, then they will be the best possible people to govern their own lives (as they are now =) ) now matter how brilliant their would-be overlords become.”

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Interesting Techniques Abound. Here's One of Them -- CPS, Psych, Self

Given how many of the exercises I've discussed on this list rely upon visualization skills, I thought I'd add this particular method (of unknown origin) for strengthening that gift. I've found this one to be effective to the extent that I've used it in the past. But like many exercises, you have to be willing to try it in the first place, and to use it more than once or twice, if you really want it to help you.

"Hold up your hand in front of your face and study it closely, the texture, light and shadows, everything. Then close your eyes and recreate it. Do this over and over.

"Once you get comfortable with this, rotate your hand in your mind so that the fingers are pointing downward, then back again. Practice going towards the thumb, then away from it. When you get good at that, rotate the hand all the way around 360 degrees. At this point, you are doing a complete visualization, since your hand won't really do that!"

Future Imperative