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InvisibletrendalM
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On Becoming Posthuman
    #3156344 - 09/20/04 04:49 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

Link: On Becoming Posthuman

On Becoming Posthuman
Copyright 1994
Max More
more@extropy.org
maxmore@primenet.com

"You're playing God."
"Somebody has to!"
Steve Martin, The Man with Two Brains.

"I teach you the overman. Man is something that is to be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?"
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, I prologue, p.3.

Humanism and Transhumanism
Should we "play God?" We might expect Humanists, having accepted that there is no divine creator, shepherd, and purpose-giver, to respond affirmatively. However, I contend that many humanists, though pro-reason, science, and technology, and though opposed to many religion-inspired dogmas, still fear their own Promethean urge to challenge the gods.

This fear shows itself especially in the common (though not universal) humanist reaction to the possibility of the technological achievement of physical immortality or agelessness. Many humanists, even if they grant the possibility of such a monumental scientific accomplishment, shrink from this prospect. "It's unnatural." "Life without death would be meaningless." "I don't want to live longer than my allotted time." Not only physical immortality, but also the acquisition of superhuman (or posthuman) intelligence and ability they view with fear and trembling. Many episodes of the humanist Star Trek series embody these attitudes: Transcending the merely human always brings disaster, starting with the 2nd episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before."

Such tales smell as rotten to me as those of Icarus, Frankenstein, and the Tower of Babel: Humans should just accept their limits. Don't build wings! Don't build towers that penetrate the heavens! Don't try to conquer aging and death! Cure the sick, but don't strengthen the healthy!

Despite sharing so many values and goals with humanism, this failure of courage and vision explains why there are a growing number of people calling themselves transhumanists. As the term suggests, transhumanists anticipate our future as posthumans, and adjust their view of their lives accordingly. The most organized group of transhumanists call themselves Extropians. (Others are found in advocacy groups for life extension, space exploration, and so on.) We develop extropian perspectives on technology, science, philosophy, and art in our journal, Extropy: The Journal of Transhumanist Thought, in the Extropy Institute newsletter, email forums, and conferences. Extropians have a specific conception of transhumanism, involving certain values and goals, such as boundless expansion, self-transcendence, dynamic optimism, intelligent technology, and spontaneous order. Extropians are those who consciously seek to further "extropy" a measure of intelligence, information, energy, life, experience, diversity, opportunity, and growth.

Extropian transhumanism emphasizes aspects of humanism, rather than conflicting with it. For example, we share most of the values and goals listed in "The Affirmations of Humanism", being stirred particularly by principles stating that "We are citizens of the universe and are excited by discoveries still to be made in the cosmos." "....we are open to novel ideas and seek new departures in our thinking." "We believe in optimism rather than pessimism..."

Though the theme of this issue is "Playing God", I will propose here not that we seek to play God or become gods, but that we strive to become posthuman. Talk of "God" or "gods" raises the specter of traditional, outdated, primitive conceptions of superior beings. Let us leave no assumption unquestioned while conceiving of our possible future selves. No matter if we become immortal and incredibly powerful, we will not be supernatural ghosts unbound by physics, nor will we be jealous, vengeful enforcers of Judeo-Christian morals. So, leaving aside gods, I will ask: First, is a posthuman condition truly possible? Second, should we seek to become posthuman? Is it desirable?

Are Posthumans Possible?
The transition from human to posthuman can be defined physically or memetically. Physically, we will have become posthuman only when we have made such fundamental and sweeping modifications to our inherited genetics, physiology, neurophysiology and neurochemistry, that we can no longer be usefully classified with Homo Sapiens. Memetically, we might expect posthumans to have a different motivational structure from humans, or at least the ability to make modifications if they choose. For example: transforming or controlling sexual orientation, intensity, and timing, or complete control over emotional responses through manipulation of neurochemistry.

Clearly we have already taken our first steps along the road to posthumanity. We have begun to directly alter our genetic structure to remedy nature's failures. We use Prozac, Piracetam, Hydergine, and Deprenyl to modify our psychology, enhance our concentration, and slow brain aging. Research into more specific and powerful neurochemical modifiers accelerates as we apply new tools from molecular biology, computer-assisted molecular design, and brain imaging.

The merging of human and machine is clear to those who survey the arena. Machines are becoming more organic, self-modifying, and intelligent. Driving these developments are fields such as artificial life, neural networks, fuzzy logic, intelligent agents, and machine intelligence. At the same time, we are beginning to incorporate our technology into our selves. We began with pacemakers, artificial joints, and contact lenses. Artificial retinas are under development, and signals have successfully been passed back and forth between a neuron in vitro and a field effect transistor. The researchers suggest the next step is to connect up an array of neurons and electronic components. Computers and their interfaces rapidly evolve to fit us: From mainframes and text-based interfaces to PCs and GUIs, PDAs, voice-recognition, and knowbots. How long before our computers are implanted in our brains, as seamlessly integrated into our cognition as an extra hemisphere? Maybe 10 years, maybe 50 or 60, but it's coming.

The dawn of the new millennium will see the ability to use engineered viruses to alter the genetic structure of any cell, even adult, differentiated cells. This will give us pervasive control over our physiology and morphology. Molecular nanotechnology, an emerging and increasingly funded technology, should eventually give us practically complete control over the structure of matter, allowing us to build anything, perfectly, atom-by-atom. We will be able to program the construction of physical objects (including our bodies) just as we now do with software. The abolition of aging and most involuntary death will be one result. We have achieved two of the three alchemists' dreams: We have transmuted the elements and learned to fly. Immortality is next.

Some machine intelligence researchers, roboticists, and cognitive scientists foresee even more radical posthuman possibilities. We may be able to "upload" our selves (our psychology, memories, emotional responses, values, feelings) from our biological brains into synthetic brains. Running on new hardware, perhaps connectionist nanocomputers, our mental processes could run up to a million times faster, and should admit of far easier and more extensive modification than allowed by our natural brains.

The Posthuman Goal
And life itself confided this secret to me: "Behold," it said, "I am that which must always overcome itself. Indeed, you call it a will to procreate or a drive to an end, to something higher, farther, more manifold"
Thus Spake Zarathustra II 12

Why reach beyond ourselves and our humanity? Why seek to become posthuman? Why not accept our human limits and renounce transcendence? To ask these questions is almost to answer them. The hypothetical questioner sounds timid, cringing, or self-satisfied. The Enlightenment and the humanist perspective assure us that progress is possible, that life is a grand adventure, and that reason, science, and good will can free us from the confines of the past. Certainly, we can achieve much while remaining human. Yet we can attain higher peaks only by applying our intelligence, determination, and optimism to break out of the human chrysalis. Evolution, despite our efforts, has channeled our behavior in particular directions built into our neurology. Our bodies and brains restrain our capacities. Our creativity struggles within the boundaries of human intelligence, imagination, and concentration.

Aging and death victimizes all humans. To transhumanists, in the words of Alan Harrington, death is an imposition on the human race and no longer acceptable. The infuriating truth is that, just as we begin to accumulate a modicum of wisdom and skill, aging sneaks in to sap our energies. Nature has not allowed us to capitalize on our first few decades of experience. Death swoops down to deliver the final insult. Thus, to Extropians and other transhumanists, the technological conquest of aging and death stands out as the most urgent, vital, worthy quest of our time.

Some fear that life will lose its meaningfulness without the traditional stages of life produced by aging and the certainty of death. Extropians regard such an attitude as an understandable rationalization, a mechanism for making the best of what has hitherto been inevitable. Certainly, the achievement of posthuman lifespans will require extensive revision of our way of life, our institutions, and our conception of our selves. Yet the effort is worth it. Limitless life offers new vistas, unexplored possibilities, unbounded self-development. Not only will agelessness and deathlessness not rob life of its meaning, I believe the contrary is true. Meaningfulness and value require the continual making and breaking of forms, a process of self-overcoming, not a stagnant state. Besides, the drive for transcendence is too strong and central to life. We see it in our unquenchable thirst for heroes to admire and, in a distorted, externalized form, in the persistence and ubiquity of religion. Better to recognize and harness it rationally than to ignore or eradicate it.

The contemporary medical paradigm embodies a distinction common to our culture: The sharp distinction between curing disease and enhancing function to extraordinary levels. Doctors see their job as remedying disease and defect, not as augmentation of already-healthy function. I see this as related to a limited conception of "the natural". When we cure a defect, we simply make things as nature (or God) intended. It's unnatural, it's said, to live without end, or to boost the body and brain beyond the norm. Thus, we find acceptable psychiatric drugs but reject intelligence-boosting drugs; we practice heart surgery but not deep-freezing the barely dead.

Yet we should regard transhuman transcendence as natural. Nature embodies within itself a tendency to seek new complex structures, to overcome itself to take on new, more effective forms. Nietzsche recognized this in his view of the universal will to power. More recently, we have partly uncovered this drive towards complexity through complexity theory, evolutionary theory, artificial life, and neurocomputing. Overcoming limits comes naturally to humans. The drive to transform ourselves and our environment is at our core.

No one will punish us for opening Pandora's box, for equipping ourselves with wings of posthuman intelligence and agelessness. Our old myths, holding us back from radical innovation, were adaptive in our early history, when we lived on the edge of extinction. New techniques that changed ways of life could lead to the starvation of a community of primitive humans. Yes, we need to step carefully in modifying our brain function, our genes, and our physiology, but let us not hold back out of fear or false reverence for Nature as we find it.

Life and intelligence should never stagnate; it can re-order, transform and transcend its limits in an unlimited progression. Let our goal be the exuberant and dynamic continuation of this boundless process. The goal of religion is communion with, or merely serving, Goda superior being. A true humanist goalan extropian goalis our own expansion and progress without end. Humanity must not stagnate: to halt our burgeoning move forward, upward, outward, would be a betrayal of the dynamic inherent in life and consciousness. Let us progress on into a posthuman stage that we can barely glimpse.

God was a primitive notion invented by superstitious people, people only just beginning to step out of ignorance and unconsciousness. The concept of God has been oppressive: a being more powerful than we, but made in the image of our crude self-conceptions. Our own process of endless progression into higher forms should and will replace this religious idea. Humanity is a temporary stage along the evolutionary pathway. We are not the zenith of nature's development. It is time for us to consciously take charge of ourselves and to accelerate our transhuman progress.

No more gods, no more faith, no more timid holding back. Let us blast out of our old forms, our ignorance, our weakness, and our mortality. The future belongs to posthumanity.


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InvisibleMoonshoe
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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: trendal]
    #3156388 - 09/20/04 04:57 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

Indeed, challenge all limits, destroy all barriers, overcome all self-restricting definitions, pursue uncharted possibilities, never rely on others to validate your experiences or actions, and realize that evolution can occur in the lifetime of a single individual.


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Invisiblegettinjiggywithit
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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: trendal]
    #3156524 - 09/20/04 05:28 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

  :thumbup:


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OfflineUnenlightenedOne
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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: Moonshoe]
    #3156634 - 09/20/04 05:54 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

I feel the posthuman movement is trying to move society into the wrong direction completely.This will only bring us further from our nature.This will only amplify current world problems and society's problems greatly.Generally posthumans are "Persons of unprecedented physical, intellectual, and psychological capacity, self-programming, self-constituting, potentially immortal, unlimited individuals."

If humans cannot control themselves even with ALL these limits currently.How can they expect to be any better after removing these limits?

The posthumanist ideal could only flourish properly in a utopian setting.


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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: UnenlightenedOne]
    #3156654 - 09/20/04 05:59 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

I see it as a way that brings humans closer to their spirit nature. Define nature or what is natural?


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OfflineUnenlightenedOne
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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: gettinjiggywithit]
    #3156681 - 09/20/04 06:08 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

Quote:

Define nature or what is natural?




Lmao.You're one of them huh?

Reading a dictionary wouldnt hurt any of you.lol.

"A primitive state of existence, untouched and uninfluenced by civilization or artificiality."

"Humankind's natural state as distinguished from the state of grace."

Nature...um...well,the state in which we lived for many many many millenia.Things that exist without the aid of man or man's creation of it.

To say "define nature or what is natural" is to be ingorant and make excuses for what you are trying to assert.


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Do not desire to reach a high level.Rather work without thought of reward to iron out flaws and impurities in one's self for the sake of one's self.When one has done this one needs not to desire anymore. http://www.lifeforceonlinestore.com/yc/


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Invisiblegettinjiggywithit
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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: UnenlightenedOne]
    #3156783 - 09/20/04 06:34 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

Am I one of those people who never knows if someone is using a dictionary defintion of a word or a personal one? YES, I am.

I wasn't trying to assert much other then understanding why you felt the way you do about this.

Who says the state of grace is not deeply inherent in the human nature, yet to be untapped via the awakening of dormant DNA and the unused portions of the brain?

maybe will will discover the nature of the spirit in the human when this change takes place.

You don't know that? If you choose to keep the state of grace distinguisably different from the yet unrealised potential of human nature can encompass then..... thats your opinion and beleif. I was just looking to understand why you felt that way.

You almost imply that anything a human creates is an unatural thing to do. Where are lines drawn for what is natural and what is not? Are you going to turn this into a religious morality thing? If your views come from morality issues, then I understand why you are oppossed to this idea of post humans. You have a right to be. Others have a right to be open to exploring it.

let me ask you, is ignorance natural and the state you hope to live in for the rest of your days as we have for millenia as you put it?


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Ahuwale ka nane huna.


Edited by gettinjiggywithit (09/20/04 06:40 PM)


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InvisibletrendalM
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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: UnenlightenedOne]
    #3156806 - 09/20/04 06:39 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

I think one of the primary road-blocks between posthumanists and non-posthumanists is that most posthumanists seem to agree that there is no such thing as "unnatural". Everything is a part of nature, including the creations of man (himself a part of nature).

To say "define nature or what is natural" is not an ignorant "excuse"...it is a valid question being posed to someone who seems to think that there DO exist things which are "unnatural".

To overcome this roadblock would require (I think) a reworking of the language we use to differentiate betwen man-made and things which exist independant of man.


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OfflineUnenlightenedOne
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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: gettinjiggywithit]
    #3156896 - 09/20/04 07:09 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

I meant one of those who use "Everything is natural.," as an excuse to do what they want regardless of anything.

I appologize if you're not just some nihilist seeking to justify their actions.

Quote:

You almost imply that anything a human creates is an unatural thing to do. Where are lines drawn for what is natural and what is not? Are you going to turn this into a religious morality thing?




Machines are unnatural they do not exist outside of human creation.Thus they are not of nature.The natural vs unnatural line is very clear.That which does not exist in nature outside of man's creation/interference is definitely unnatural.So in essence and by definition humans creating at all is unnatural.Creation is divine.Some unnatural things are in accordance with nature however.Such as tools like knives.They enhance man's ability to prepare/collect food and consume it.But others are against nature and work against it like factories.They only enhance the production of artificial things and destroy nature.Knives dont do anything to nature.It doesnt harm it in anyway unless a human directly uses it to destroy.

My views come from looking out for mother earth.I cannot verily agree with that which goes against nature.Machines are purely human created.We then are, in the future and even now,going to implant these machines into human flesh.This is a great desecration.

The human body is not designed to work in this manner.It will cause health problems and interfere with human beings no matter what authorities tell you.

A computer aids human nature it makes communication over long distances very easy.It enhances human nature and aids the need for social contact.But implanting these computers into flesh defies nature.

Quote:

let me ask you, is ignorance natural and the state you hope to live in for the rest of your days as we have for millenia as you put it?




Ignorance is unnatural.Humans are not naturally ignorant they choose to be.

Natural vs unnatural isnt flesh vs machine.Its what is in accordance of the laws of nature.


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OfflineUnenlightenedOne
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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: trendal]
    #3156920 - 09/20/04 07:14 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

Quote:

To say "define nature or what is natural" is not an ignorant "excuse"...it is a valid question being posed to someone who seems to think that there DO exist things which are "unnatural".





I didnt mean it to sound that way.And I do very much see some things as unnatural.However to me what is natural and what is unnatural isnt merely human vs. machine type thing.Some machines are natural and some arent.Some feelings are natural some arent.Killing or wanting to kill for any reason other than some sort of survival is unnatural where as it is natural to want to or to kill in self defense or when in need of food.

Its more of a battle of what will enhance natural human feelings,natural human behaviour and will exist in accordance with nature and wont harm it VS things that ehnace unnatural human feelings,unnatural human behaviour and doesnt exist within accordance of nature and destroys it.


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Do not desire to reach a high level.Rather work without thought of reward to iron out flaws and impurities in one's self for the sake of one's self.When one has done this one needs not to desire anymore. http://www.lifeforceonlinestore.com/yc/


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InvisibletrendalM
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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: UnenlightenedOne]
    #3156932 - 09/20/04 07:17 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

Creation is divine.

The beaver dam would not exist if the beaver didn't decide to build one there. The beaver created the dam. Many other parts of nature build structures and make substances that would not exist without them. This is part of the nature of life.

Unless you consider humans separate from nature. If you do, I have no argument for you :wink:


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OfflineUnenlightenedOne
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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: trendal]
    #3156976 - 09/20/04 07:27 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

Beavers are acting in accordance with nature generally and and are in accordance with their nature.Also beaver dams arent generally destructive to nature either.Without mans interference beavers would still build dams.

Quote:

Unless you consider humans separate from nature.





This whole topic is very difficult especially this part of it.Is man seperate from nature? Well yes and no.Yes in the sense that we have seperated ourselves from it almost completely in alot of ways.Our entire society is currently mostly unnatural and artificial.Humans are natural in a sense.They came to be without any interference.They for hundreds of thousands of years were natural and in accordance with nature however most currently have seperated themselves from nature.Thus currently human society,science,etc and humans in general are unnatural.Interference in and of itself is also unnatural.Creating tools generally doesnt interfere with nature...creating plants,genetically altering animals,creating machines that aid only human,etc is unnatural and in my opinion interferes with nature.Especially cars.


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Do not desire to reach a high level.Rather work without thought of reward to iron out flaws and impurities in one's self for the sake of one's self.When one has done this one needs not to desire anymore. http://www.lifeforceonlinestore.com/yc/


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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: UnenlightenedOne]
    #3157263 - 09/20/04 08:43 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

I'm still looking to gain understanding here, maybe I missed something.

Are you reffering to unantural creations being synthetic plastics and drugs and anything where humans have changed the natural molecular stucture of something?

I can take that point of this into consideration. We have no idea what loooooooooong term effects are going to be on the planet because of synthetics or nuclear waste for that matter. I don't dig trashing the planet for personal gain. I wish we would turn to free energy sources, which is a posthuman goal.

I wish you would explain where the idea of inhilations comes from to focus this discussion in. What are the actual dangers you see?

What I support about the over all idea of the article is the evolution of what I call spirit biotechnology.

I have no problem with people pausing to consider what the effects of modern technology and advancement have on disabling our planets ability to support us ie food and fresh water and clean air yada yada. I don't even care much about the advancment of machinistic external technology. I care about internal bio technology.

The idea of spirit biotechnology supercedes those concerns. There are people called airtarians who survive on just water. I beleive when we really up the light quotient of our DNA and biology, we won't even need water or air.

There are also people who are able to experience sustained periods without breathing air. A lot of us doing DNA work catch ourselves not breathing and when doing intensive light infusion work, we loose our appetites and stay energized. People on DMT say they catch themselves not breathing and are fine. We can naturally produce the release of such chemicals.

I'm talking about living off the aethers-it's a goal of mine and thousands if not millions by now.

I am interested in the pursuit of energy medicing, light and sound "frequency" healing.

I could go on, but this is the posthuman sort of stuff that I support exploring.

To give ground to my perspective, I AM definetly someone who challenges the gods as was stated in the article. Off with their heads, every last one of them chop chop chop.

I think its time for humans to take creative responcibility and step up to the plate and take this experience to the next level, keeping mother earth not only in tact, but thriving better then ever! This is the attitude of posthuman ideology that I support!

Most people into this ideology already understand our interconnection with all things and take responcibility and accountability over our creations very seriously. We are also shifting awarness to thinking reflectively before acting, versus acting and then reflecting back on where wern't thinking. Big difference.

Anyone can answer the questions I asked from their perspective.


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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: UnenlightenedOne]
    #3157265 - 09/20/04 08:43 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

Quote:

Is man seperate from nature? Well yes and no.Yes in the sense that we have seperated ourselves from it almost completely in alot of ways.Our entire society is currently mostly unnatural and artificial.




It doesn't matter how much more artificial our life is becoming, humans are part of nature if you define it as "all that exist + their creations". If you narrow the term nature in such a way that cars, glasses of water, houses are not included then man has grown to opposite nature. What I think is that everything is nature. Nature is created, edited and destroyed by nature itself. + I think is kind of egocentric or mancentric to distinguish man from other human being such that a man build house is different from a bird build nest.


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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: UnenlightenedOne]
    #3159082 - 09/21/04 09:05 AM (12 years, 7 months ago)

They for hundreds of thousands of years were natural and in accordance with nature however most currently have seperated themselves from nature.Thus currently human society,science,etc and humans in general are unnatural.Interference in and of itself is also unnatural.Creating tools generally doesnt interfere with nature...creating plants,genetically altering animals,creating machines that aid only human,etc is unnatural and in my opinion interferes with nature.Especially cars.

Humans have only been around for about 100,000 years. The idea that our destruction of nature began only a short while ago is wrong, as we have been doing damage (causing species to go extinct) ever since we broke that first stone in just the right way.

I define "nature" as "all that exists".

Webster:
Main Entry: na?ture
6 : the external world in its entirety

As the inventions of Man quite obviously do exist, I must conclude that they are also "natural" and in fact a part of "nature". Our planet is most certainly not the only planet with life on it in this Universe, so you can't just look at the Earth when defining "what constitutes 'nature'". Some people seem to think of nature as just the life on this planet, without even including the rocks, metal, and air the planet itself is made of. Our planet is part of a larger system, the solar system, which appears to be quite a naturally occuring phenomena. I think in the distant future, if we humans are still around and have made contact with other species, we will see that the general shape of "progress" made by the human species is remarkably normal when compared to that of similar species in similar environments.

Our tools, even the most destructive ones, are not "unnatural" because they do exist.

Of course, we are wildly out of sync with the rest of the biosphere here on Earth, and as I said have been causing damage in the form of extinction since we got here. The next 100 years will be a turning point for humans on Earth, and our survival is not certain.


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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: trendal]
    #3159603 - 09/21/04 02:08 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

interesting  :crazy2:


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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: trendal]
    #3160878 - 09/21/04 06:15 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

I put this article on DNA here because I think it fits in with my idea of what being post human and post human type pursuits are all about, namely advancing in the areas of BIO technology.

Unenlightenedone, a lot of the damage done to earth was done by current humans. I too think it's horrible that children born by churnoble have 3 heads and that most lakes and rivers are undrinkable, the air is discusting to breath in big cities, and that the beautiful island of Trinidad is measurably sinking because of the oil drilling going on beneath it, not to mention the unspeakable rate of rain forest destruction.

I beleive it is going to be the post humans who will have the creative intelligence developed to clean it all up and begin restoration work. I think free energy and frequency based sciences as well as DNA technology will provide many solutions for repurifying the planet. Have hope and look into it all further. Lots of good is happening too. That will pave the way.




Secrets of a Salty Survivor

A microbe that grows in the Dead Sea is teaching scientists about the art of DNA repair.

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2004/10sep_radmicrobe.htm?list970626

Listen to this story via streaming audio, a downloadable file, or get help.

September 10, 2004: You can learn a lot from a microbe. Right now, a tiny critter from the Dead Sea is teaching scientists new things about biotechnology, cancer, possible life on other worlds. And that's just for starters:

This microbe, called Halobacterium, may hold the key to protecting astronauts from one of the greatest threats they would face during a mission to Mars: space radiation. The harsh radiation of interplanetary space can penetrate astronauts' bodies, damaging the DNA in their cells, which can cause cancer and other illnesses. DNA damage is also behind cancers that people suffer here on Earth.

Right: Cells of Halobacterium as seen through a high-powered microscope. The individual cells in this image are about 5 microns long. [More]

Halobacterium appears to be a master of the complex art of DNA repair. This mastery is what scientists want to learn from: In recent years, a series of experiments by NASA-funded researchers at the University of Maryland has probed the limits of Halobacterium's powers of self-repair, using cutting-edge genetic techniques to see exactly what molecular tricks the "master" uses to keep its DNA intact.


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"We have completely fragmented their DNA. I mean we have completely destroyed it by bombarding it with [radiation]. And they can reassemble their entire chromosome and put it back into working order within several hours," says Adrienne Kish, member of the research group studying Halobacterium at the University of Maryland.

Being a virtuoso at repairing damaged DNA makes Halobacterium one hardy little microbe: in experiments by the Maryland research group, Halobacterium has survived normally-lethal doses of ultraviolet radiation (UV), extreme dryness, and even the vacuum of space.

The Dead Sea is not so dead

But why is Halobacterium such a tenacious survivor? What caused it to evolve such dexterous DNA repair mechanisms? And how do those mechanisms work?

Jocelyne DiRuggiero, leader of the Maryland research group, has been exploring these questions for the last five years. She believes the answer stems from the fact that Halobacterium naturally lives in some rather inhospitable places: ultra-salty bodies of water such as the Dead Sea.

Most sea life would quickly shrivel up and die in the Dead Sea's briny water, which is 5 to 10 times saltier than normal seawater. The extreme saltiness damages an organism's cells, and especially the DNA inside those cells. This happens because DNA molecules are accustomed to being surrounded by a dense swarm of water molecules, and the DNA actually depends on the influence of these water molecules to keep its double-helix structure intact and to avoid damage. But in ultra-salty waters, the dissolved salt crowds out the water molecules. Partially deprived of the contact with water they need, the long strands of DNA suffer damage and even break, causing the cell to malfunction or die.

Evolving to cope with a salty lifestyle could explain why Halobacterium is so good at surviving radiation and other ravages, DiRuggiero reasons:

"High salt concentrations lead to the same type of lesion in the DNA that does radiation," she explains. "So if the organisms are adapted to extreme saltiness, they have the machinery to repair those lesions when they encounter radiation."

Left: The Dead Sea is 5+ times saltier than Earth's oceans. As water evaporates, salt is left behind. When the saturation point is reached, the salt forms these pillars. Credit: Purdue University.

DiRuggiero and her research group have begun revealing this DNA-repair machinery in a recent series of experiments funded by NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

In some experiments, they exposed Halobacterium cells to beams of intense UV radiation. "We used UV-C at 254 nm, which is the most lethal UV wavelength," says DiRuggiero. Most microbes, like E. coli that lives in the human gut, would have been completely exterminated, yet 80% of the Halobacterium cells survived. Indeed, they went on living and reproducing just fine.

In other experiments, the researchers used a vacuum chamber at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to expose cells of Halobacterium to a space-like vacuum (1 millitorr). Here, living in very salty water proved to be Halobacterium's saving grace: as the vacuum caused the water to evaporate away, the salt was left behind, forming salt crystals. The tiny cells of Halobacterium became trapped inside these crystals, along with a bit of entrapped water.

"The salt crystal is like a little house in which the cells are protecting themselves from additional desiccation," DiRuggiero explains. The cells can live in a semi-dormant state within the crystals for a long time. When dissolved back into water, the cells spring to life again, repair all the damage to their DNA caused by the partial desiccation, and go right on living.

Right: A repair enzyme correcting an error in a DNA molecule. The enzyme is on the right in orange and green, and part of the double-helix-shaped DNA is on the left in blue. Image credit: Albert Lau.

Some scientists even claim to have found living cells of Halobacterium encased in salt deposits that are 250 million years old. (see journal references below) The claim is controversial, but if true, it could have some profound implications for the hunt for microbial life on Mars. Evidence from the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, announced in March suggests that the Martian surface once had pools of salty water, which slowly evaporated away.

"So if microbial life evolved on Mars and then the water evaporated, and if the microbes are trapped in salt crystals, they could still be there, and still viable. Given the data that we have from Earth, that's entirely possible," Kish says.

Reading the "book of life"

To understand how these cells of Halobacterium managed to survive in their experiments, DiRuggiero's team sent the "victims" of their tests to the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. There, scientists used a modern genetics tool called a "DNA microarray" to see a complete picture of Halobacterium's response to being damaged: the full set of molecular tools that spring into action in the wake of a UV dose or exposure to space-like vacuum.

These "molecular repair tools" belong to a category of proteins called enzymes. Enzymes are the workhorses of all living cells: they catalyze the thousands of chemical reactions necessary for life, such as breaking down food or repairing flaws in DNA. Halobacterium always keeps a certain amount of repair enzymes on hand, so when a radiation dose occurs, this stash of enzymes can quickly administer "first aid" to the DNA. But then it must also ramp up production of other repair enzymes to continue the repair, activating the genes that produce those enzymes. It's that boost in gene activity that the microarray tests can detect, thus showing which enzymes are important for Halobacterium's remarkable DNA-repair abilities.

Left: A DNA microarray, as seen through a microscope. Each tiny dot corresponds to one of the organism's thousands of genes, and the color of the dot indicates the activity level of that gene. Image credit: James Smiley.

From those microarrays, DiRuggiero's team has learned that when it comes to DNA repair, Halobacterium is something of a "Renaissance bug." It dabbles in a bit of everything. Its genome of only 2,400 genes contains several distinct sets of DNA-repair mechanisms. Some of these sets of tools are like the DNA-repair tools found in plants and animals, other sets are more like those of bacteria, and still others are characteristic of a lesser-known group of life called "Archaea" (the group that Halobacterium belongs to). Halobacterium has them all. Beyond even that, Halobacterium has a few novel DNA-repair mechanisms that no one has ever seen before!

Learning how all these repair mechanisms work could teach scientists a lot about how DNA repair occurs in humans, and perhaps point to ways to enhance people's natural ability to cope with damage to their DNA--a possible boon to astronauts.

"Many of the repair proteins in the Archaea are very similar to that of Eukarya -- [the group of life that includes] you and me -- and therefore Archaea can be used as a simple model system to study the more complex processes that occur in eukaryotes," DiRuggiero explains.

Some of these novel molecular tools could also prove to be useful for industry and biotechnology, DiRuggiero suspects. After all, it was in studying a cousin of Halobacterium -- a heat-loving microbe -- that scientists found the DNA-copying protein that made it possible to sequence entire genomes. The Human Genome Project would have never happened without it.

Not bad for a humble microbe.


--------------------
Ahuwale ka nane huna.


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OfflineUnenlightenedOne
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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: trendal]
    #3161829 - 09/21/04 09:39 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

http://www.biology-online.org/10/15_homo.htm

Homo Sapiens have existed about 1.6 million years ago.Homo Sapiens Sapiens (Ie modern day species of human) has existed for about 30,000 years.

Man has existed in more rudimentary forms of man long before the homo sapiens even.

Man's destruction was minimal and repaired by man until the last few hundreds years but mass destructionm of the environment took place about 50 years ago.The emergence of industrial america.Hunting animals to extinction was very rare until white hunters mass hunted native species.Since the late 1800's dozens and dozens of species have disappeared due to modern man.Mostly modern white man.Everyday more species are on the brink of extinction due to clearing of habitats and filling in water bodies...etc etc...

If machines are part of nature and inheritantly natural why didnt nature spawn them?Why did only man spawn them?And why can they not exist outside of man.Introducing non-native animals and plants into a habitat is also unnatural.

We simply have very different viewpoints.

My one major grudge againt machines is the act that since machines were invented they have been the number one source of pollution of the air.They also heavily pollute waters and land.At the emergence of industrial factories and mills pollution hit a very high level and now its only growing worse.It's so bad many sensitive species such as frogs are showing abnormalities and deformities and sometimes disappearing form their habitat forever.God only knows what effect this has on humans and human DNA.

Nature can have dozens of definitions.Most common words do.


--------------------
Do not desire to reach a high level.Rather work without thought of reward to iron out flaws and impurities in one's self for the sake of one's self.When one has done this one needs not to desire anymore. http://www.lifeforceonlinestore.com/yc/


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Offlinedeff
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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: UnenlightenedOne]
    #3162369 - 09/21/04 11:12 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

Your viewpoint is that man is external from nature, and his surroundings.

Trendal's, and my view, is that man is a part of "nature" and thus so are his creations.


So basically, it's just semantics :smile:


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OfflineWhiteRussian
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Re: On Becoming Posthuman [Re: trendal]
    #3162461 - 09/21/04 11:29 PM (12 years, 7 months ago)

im staying out of this one  :crymeariver:


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