Babel, hubris, and humanism unchained

Scarcely a week goes by without the BAM content feeds getting a ping or two from the Singularity Symposium, with its key focusing points being Artificial Intelligence and Transhumanism. The latter is defined as “the belief that technology can allow us to improve, enhance and overcome the limits of our biology”. For an inspiring two minutes by the typically electric “performance philosopher” Jason Silva on the no-limits frontiers of transhumanism, try this Shot of Awe.

Rippling through so much of what is said and written about transhumanism is the notion that there are no of limits on how far humanity can transcend itself. We are, as the first link above concludes in its opening paragraph, on course to become near embodiments of gods. The “Shot of Awe” opens with a quotation: “We are as gods and may as well get good at it.” With or without a belief in an already existing God of some formal definition, it is possible to squirm slightly at the perils of hubris, if not downright arrogance, in pitching our assumptions so high, but then cognitive biases always come from somewhere, and everyone grew up on the fable of Babel.

Our post-Enlightenment world can make short work of deconstructing the famous first verses of Genesis, Chapter 11, with its embarrassingly implausible opening line: “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” Apparently unaware of the cognitive enhancement to be derived from learning another language, and careless of the chance that “scattering them abroad” might extend human dominion far more comprehensively than would ever have been possible if the mortals had been left to play with their building blocks, the deity instead “confused them in their language” and set them on a course to the horizon of tomorrows we now envisage. However likely it may be that humanity may become “as gods” through the exercise of reason and study of science, it must be a better course than building tall towers.

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