Monday, August 23, 2004


As a long-time atheist, I've often had debates about religion in which the opposing team has made the claim that people "need" religion. Psychologically need, that is.

Clearly, I am living proof that this statement is false in at least some cases. However, my recent trip to TransVision 2004 got me thinking about my own psychology.

I see technology as a key to humanity's survival. Perhaps, by amplifying human intellect (a transhumanist goal), we might develop the wisdom (or at least the intelligence) we need to avoid self-destruction. Of course, there are many other fringe benefits, including extremely long happy lifespans, and the ability to better appreciate the universe and our fellow beings.

This world view is brimming with hope. It also happens to be exciting, rewarding and entirely plausible. As a lazy, hedonistic humanoid, the fringe benefits are quite appealing, to say the least. Indeed, transhumanism may deliver through science, what religionists can only pray for.

I'm claiming that this hopeful world view is a useful heuristic. World views are used to set long-term strategy. Suppose the prevailing world view was that we would soon exhaust our energy, pollute our clean air and water, and then expire in a nuclear holocaust. I think we would all still get up in the morning. However, we would probably spend most of our time coming up with ways to trying to party like it's 1999.

Unlike religion, transhumanism doesn't offer any guarantees, though, in practice, this makes little difference. In practice, people hedge their bets. We work towards social harmony, but party like it's 1999 (would you believe, 1995?) on Saturday nights.

Most of us want to live in a stable society where we can all get along. Having a world view that is not at odds with our social structure allows us to indulge in social activity (e.g., bowling, weddings, etc.) without guilt. In other words, we may "need" hope in order to function effectively in an advancing society.


Nevin ":-)" said...

> I see technology as a key to humanity's survival.

But do you "see" this in a scientifically measurable and repeatable way, or is this just having faith in technology, which pretty much makes this a religion?

Doctor Logic said...

Oh, it's totally different from religion, for at least two reasons.

First of all, it's based on facts and logic. Science has already succeeded in extending human lifespans by about a factor of two. If we are ever to divert an incoming asteroid, or survive massive climate change, we won't do it by relinquishing technology. Technology may provide us with new ways to obliterate ourselves, but it's the only way to survive natural disasters.

So, since we certainly can't live without technology, we can only hope to learn to live with it (through it?).

Secondly, my claim is falsifiable. Humanity (or, um, post-humanity) might not survive even with the help of technology.