Transhumanist Spirituality – A New Religion for the Modern Age?

Giulio Prisco

Giulio Prisco

Pascal’s Wager demonstrated a certain rationality to a belief in god. The seventeenth century philosopher, Pascal, argued that if one believes, yet god does not exist, nothing is lost in death. But, if god exists, the reward is eternal happiness.

For the transhumanist thinker, Giulio Prisco, if god doesn’t exist, he believes we will create him. Or her. Or, more accurately, perhaps – them. Prisco’s reasoning results not so much in a wager as an expectation.

Speaking to The Eternities podcast, he said, “Richard Dawkins … the atheist mastermind … writes in The God Delusion [that he] finds it very plausible in the universe that there may be very powerful beings like gods. He thinks these beings are a product of natural evolution like ourselves. That’s exactly what I think myself. I don’t place any artificial limits on the achievements that will be possible to intelligent life in the future. And I do think that some of our descendants, perhaps in a few thousand years, will be so advanced … that we could only call them gods.”

Prisco is no mere kook or sci-fi fantasist but a physicist, computer scientist and ex-senior manager at the European Space Agency. Currently he is the Transhumanism Editor for KurzweilAI.net and is a director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. His uncompromising and ultra-optimistic “third way” philosophy combines the traditional aims of religion – existential meaning, eternal life, transcendence – with the ever-advancing means of science.

While the field of archaeology may figuratively bring the past to life for its exponents, the predicted future discipline of quantum archaeology, Prisco believes, may literally do so, and for all lifeforms that have ever lived. Though, he also acknowledges, we may already be living in a simulated reality, run by advanced god-like beings, our immortality already guaranteed.

He said, “There are people who think of … some information store which is already being filled by the natural physical processes that happen in space-time. There are some people who base the reincarnation idea on that. It’s not something that I can rule entirely out. If that does not happen spontaneously … let’s engineer resurrection and the afterlife. If there is no god, let’s build a god, or let’s become gods. And let’s make the universe a better place.”

Listen to The Eternities podcast with Giulio Prisco.

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47 Responses to Transhumanist Spirituality – A New Religion for the Modern Age?

  1. Charlie Primero September 3, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    I can’t wait to get my consciousness uploaded into my titanium Iron Man body so I can live forever. Then all those knuckle-draggin untermenschen who tormented me in high school are gonna PAY. First they will earn their keep mowing my yard on orders from the Zeitgeist A.I. supercomputer while I lounge by the pool sipping pinot noir. Then their precious bodily carbon fluids will be recycled into my very own Cherry 2000 sexdroid and they can SUCK MY TITANIUM DICK for a living.

    • Charlie Primero September 3, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

      Going now to light a candle for Schwaller de Lubnicz and meditate on The Nine. Soon. Soon…

    • Hadrian999 September 4, 2013 at 12:22 am #

      I just want a good selection of MMO’s to play in my afterlife

    • mel September 4, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

      i fell off my chair reading that lmao

  2. bobbiethejean September 3, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    Pascal’s Wager demonstrated a certain rationality to a belief in god

    No it absolutely did not. There’s nothing rational about saying “believe in this magical man who will send you to the hell he created if you don’t behave exactly how he wants you to (but remember, you have free will!) because it’s better to be safe than sorry.” That’s the epitome of irrational. Besides, the argument itself is flawed in that it doesn’t account for the thousands of other gods out there who might decide to punish you because you didn’t believe in them.

    Anyway, for me, personally, transhumanism isn’t a religion or spiritual, it’s just a last hope. I used to be one of the fools who thinks that when we die, if we were Christy enough, we get to go frolicking through the fields of joy forever in perfect, uninterrupted bliss. Now I’m pretty certain that when we die, we just…… die. That’s it. No heaven, no hell, no reincarnation, dead. Game over. Transhumanism represents the only logical, realistic avenue I can see that could allow humans to extend their lifespans into the thousands, thus replacing the need for silly superstitions about afterlives and hell and gods and all that.

    • Chaorder Gradient September 3, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

      i agree that pascal’s wager was crap, but more on the grounds that it makes the belief based on selfish pragmatism rather than truth.

    • Martin Higgins September 3, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

      I wrote that Pascal’s Wager demonstrated a “certain rationality”, not
      rationality per se. I don’t think it the epitome of the irrational, as
      you say, though it’s clearly flawed.

      • bobbiethejean September 3, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

        It’s more than just slightly flawed. You can’t say “Believe in god because better to be safe than sorry” when there may be thousands of other gods out there who are just as likely to exist as Yahweh and just as likely to punish you for not believing in them. Therefore it is not a rational argument at all, especially considering that a lot of those gods demand exclusive worship.

        It’s kinda like a roulette wheel. Pascal’s wager assumes there are only two options GOD and NO GOD when there could be thousands of other gods. Pascal’s Wager is inherently flawed due to that binary assumption. Therefore it can’t be called rational. This isn’t even to get into the dubiousness of using a flawed wager as a reason to believe in magical entity evidenced only by bronze age scribblings written by cave dwelling primitives who thought the Earth was flat and outer space was filled with water.

        • Martin Higgins September 4, 2013 at 3:44 am #

          I fully understand the flawed nature of the wager. I offered it only to introduce Prisco’s own “faith”, likewise encouraged by rational thought (however flawed that thought might be in either case).

          • Giulio Prisco September 4, 2013 at 5:08 am #

            Thanks for posting this Martin! I am of course familiar with Pascal’s wager, but I think the nature of my argument is different.

            Pascal says, if there is no God, there is nothing after death, but if there is a God, there is Heaven (or Hell) after death, so believing in God and following His wishes is a sensible bet.

            I say, if there is an afterlife (quantum Akashic records or whatever), that is great, but if there is no afterlife, our descendants or some alien civilization, or some fusion of the two, can build an afterlife with science, and resurrect us there.

            Note that I didn’t use the word God. However, I think future/alien beings able to do “magic” space-time engineering and resurrect the dead from the past would be so advanced, compared to us, that we could only call them Gods (ref. Clarke’s Third Law).

          • Martin Higgins September 4, 2013 at 6:16 am #

            Hi Giulio. I didn’t mean to imply any similarity of argument to Pascal’s, but only to draw a comparison in how both lines of reasoning can result in a changed mindset where transcendence, deliverance, etc, seem much more likely, though for very different reasons.

          • bobbiethejean September 4, 2013 at 11:40 am #

            Ok. I won’t keep hammering the point. Sorry. It’s just that of all the arguments for god, Pascal’s wager always annoyed me in particular. That and “Well where else did everything come from?”

            Personally, I think that IF there was such a thing as a god, it’s probably not magic. It’s probably an entity that has evolved to interface with the universe in a more complex manner than we have.

      • bobbiethejean September 3, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

        Also, I noticed you edited your initial comment. I did not find the question offensive and I’ll answer it anyway. Hopefully you don’t mind.

        “How did you get to the certainty that when we die, we just die?”

        Generally, I hate making semantical arguments but in this case, I really meant that colloquially. I’m not clinically certain based on evidence or anything like that. It’s just a feeling I have. Quite frankly, the idea of afterlives seems too good to be true (to me) and it also seems to run counter to everything we know about how the universe works. Also, I feel it is the most logical stance until something comes along to prove otherwise.

        So no, I don’t really know that when we die we just die. However, based on what we’ve observed and considering the lack of evidence to the contrary, it seems like that when we die, we die.

        • Martin Higgins September 4, 2013 at 3:56 am #

          Unlike you, for what it’s worth (which is very little for anyone other than me), I’m “pretty certain” that when we die, we don’t just die. At least, not entirely.

          Personally, “the hard problem of consciousness” is the stumbling block to believing in complete annhilation, for me. I don’t know how the universe creates living beings that each have a point of awareness, which wink into being at birth and wink out forever at death. Reductive-materialist explanations have yet to sway me on this.

          Like you, I don’t really know either. But, based on what I’ve experienced of my own consciousness and considering the lack of suitable explanations to the contrary, it seems that when I die, I won’t be dying.

          • Giulio Prisco September 4, 2013 at 5:19 am #

            Martin, then you have found your own answer! That is great for you — I hope your intuitions of (some sort of) afterlife give you hope, happiness, peace, and the drive to do something good in this world.

            I am not so lucky — I have no “revealed,” intuitive knowledge of another world, and that’s why I try to use science to make it intellectually plausible. Interestingly enough, “reductive-materialist” explanations are among the cornerstones of my convictions.

          • Martin Higgins September 4, 2013 at 6:30 am #

            Yes, I understand how far my own subjective experiences go for others (ie. not very).

            I’m not knocking science, only commenting that I’m unsold by what the reductive-materialists currently say on consciousness. They may yet reduce it and demonstrate it for the unhaunted matter they suspect. Or perhaps they will come up with new models and explain it in a way that connects with traditional views of the soul. Either way, I fully expect science to continue the revealing.

          • Giulio Prisco September 4, 2013 at 9:31 am #

            @Martin re “what the reductive-materialists currently say on consciousness”

            No modern materialist scientist imagines the brain as a mechanical clockwork with little gears moving inside, generating consciousness as they turn.

            On the contrary, the prevailing view in modern scientific literature is consciousness as an emergent property of complex data and information processing.

            There are also highly imaginative ideas on the role of weird quantum effects and “spooky action at a distance” in the physics of consciousness. Perhaps parts of the brain are really entangled receivers for information coming from “elsewhere,” and many scientists have ideas that do connect with traditional views of the soul.

            As I say in the interview I follow these “weirder” ideas with interest, and I have a very open mind. My only non-negotiable point is that consciousness is a physical phenomena that can be explained by the appropriate laws of physics (perhaps laws different from those we know at this moment). There is no supernatural, but we don’t need it, because the universe of science is mysterious enough and has room for many more things in heaven and earth.

            Reductionism — the art/science of simplifying complex problems — described very eloquently by Robert Pirsig in his masterpiece, is not the enemy of spirituality, but one of the tools of science _and_ spirituality.

            “The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of the mountain, or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha — which is to demean oneself.” (Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

          • drokhole September 5, 2013 at 10:20 am #

            Giulio,

            Not sure if you caught it, but you might be interested in an article I posted on here recently:

            Scientists Get a TASTE of the Transcendent
            https://disinfo.com/2013/09/scientists-get-a-taste-of-the-transcendent/

            To quote/paraphrase the featured account, “it [might] not answer many of the questions that (quite rightly) seem so important to us in our usual state of consciousness”, but it certainly offers a unique perspective on those “non-ordinary” states of consciousness – as personally experienced – from well-trained observers and what, if anything, they might imply. They’re very lucid reads, to boot.

          • Giulio Prisco September 5, 2013 at 10:43 am #

            @drokhole – Wow interesting! While subjective experiences are non-verifiable by definition, I think it is nonetheless worth trying to communicate them in scientific language.

          • drokhole September 5, 2013 at 11:33 am #

            Indeed! Thanks for the response. And, while perhaps non-verifiable/quantifiable, I appreciated the measured approach Charles Tart (the site’s curator/editor when it was active) took in treating these experiences as a sort of “raw data” – from a highly articulate and conscientious group – readily accessible for review, explicitly stating

            “I emphasize the word data: no particular theoretical interpretation will be made at this site, other than that such experiences are important. The point is to let the data come out and stimulate us. Commentaries (mentioned below) are secondary to the data…”

            …so to…

            “…contribute to an archive of such experiences that can be researched, and so ultimately help our understanding, and facilitate the development of a full spectrum science of consciousness by providing both data and support for the study of transcendent experiences.”

          • Martin Higgins September 6, 2013 at 7:08 am #

            You say you follow the development of “weirder” ideas about consciousness, such as quantum effects, but though I recognise that this is merely a short-hand term you are using, I think it worth pointing out that these “weirder” ideas are nevertheless more in line with a type of thinking historically far more prevalent, prior to the unusual emergence of spiritless mechanistic imaginings (and the related imagining of machines that somehow ignite from nothing “brief candles” of consciousness, which are then extinguished forever at death).

            I’m not versed in the modern literature on consciousness so I’m sure I’m missing a trick or two. But, I’m presently sceptical that self-conscious points of awareness can emerge from data processing; unless, perhaps, we understand too little of the physical substrate itself. Rupert Sheldrake and others have commented on how a “consistent materialism must imply panpsychism”, suggesting that what we may be seeing emerging in the brain is complex consciousness from already existing less conscious forms, present in matter itself. Sheldrake also goes on to say that if our minds are not solely the products of our brains, there is no need for them to remain purely confined to our heads.

            I’m not looking to retreat from scientific explanations into supernatural thinking, by any means. I’m just more inclined to such directions of thinking about
            consciousness as those suggested by Sheldrake, especially after my own experiences of “non-ordinary” states … which I’ve written about here: http://disinfo.com/2013/08/the-transhuman-is-already-here-and-its-you-how-i-can-write-seriously-about-psychic-superhumans/

          • bobbiethejean September 4, 2013 at 11:37 am #

            See, to me, that just seems to good to be true. I would love to believe that there is an afterlife, trust me on that. I don’t want to wink out of existence. But I see nothing that compels me to believe our consciousness can persist after the death of the brain.

            I guess what this really boils down to is whether or not you believe in mind-brain duality. The guys on the other side of the fence believe the mind and brain are separate, independent entities. I think consciousness and self-awareness are just byproducts of the interactions between the components of our brains. So like a computer, when the components fail, the whole system fails (death).

            I don’t really have any big emotions invested in mind-brain duality being false. So if someone proved that consciousness and the brain are separate, I would be shocked but I’d be fine with it. I’d adapt and change my views. Now if someone told me I cannot have my transhumanism, I might get upset. To me, it’s the only real way I can see living into my thousands. As it is, I already don’t think that’s going to happen. With my luck, I’ll just miss the technology by like a friggin year. :P But I can still hope.

        • Microhero September 5, 2013 at 9:31 am #

          Given a infinitely cyclical universe, whose properties change with every new start it is a mathematical certainty that eventually an infinite number of universes will be created and evolve with such close similarity to the one we are a part of now, that every single one of us will live our own lives over and over again in the same, relatively different, or quite different ways than we are doing now.

          But when do you stop being be you? It depends on how to define what ONE IS. Are you now the same person you where just a second ago or will be a second from now. What about an hour ago or from now. A year, A decade? is it consciousness or memory that makes you..

          Any answer seems to rely on taking certain things as given.

          I prefer the questions anyway..

          I still think that when its over, its over for the “one”, and that consciousness is a gradual, emergent property of life as life is of matter, and I need only to be in awe of this to feel my existence justified, without needing to get greedy about living because i feel so very special or unique in the universe..

          That is my truth but not my belief..

          • Andrew September 5, 2013 at 10:03 am #

            The expansion of the universe seems to be accelerating, so it probably isn’t cyclical.

          • Microhero September 5, 2013 at 10:30 am #

            You are right to point that out, but i wasn’t referring to a big shrink. My bad.

            Maybe the right word would be recurrent, rather than cyclical.
            Which is to say that a universe creating event could happen, through quantum fluctuations, however small the probability, at any given place in space and time, either obliterating “ours” or sort of coexisting with. That is a possibility that further colors my musings.

            Thank you

          • bobbiethejean September 5, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

            Interesting.

            See, I AM greedy for life. I want to live for thousands of years. I want to see how everything turns out. But what I want most is to see what happens with the tools that allow us to create. Right now, I work in Photoshop with a Waccom tablet. In a thousand years, how would I be creating art? Assuming we haven’t blown ourselves up by then, I’d like to imagine that I would be creating art straight from my mind. I imagine something and I can just make it happen. The technology would be so integrated into my mind and body that it would be completely fluid and natural to just will a sculpture into existence.

            It’s a dream of mine. Probably a stupidly optimistic one but that’s what I want.

          • Microhero September 5, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

            Again.. I was unclear on that too. I meant greedy for life beyond my expiration date. A lifeafter or an afterlife…

            I understand your wish to live for thousands of years but I expect that if such is achieved one would surely be something other than human . I mean, the awareness about ones death is a big and undeniable part of the human experience, and one that drives a lot of beautiful and horrible things we do. What kind of “people” would semi-immortal beings be? What would their priorities be? Quite different from ours I imagine.
            Still I guess I wouldn’t want to live that long but I sure would like to take a peek and see, among other things, what kind of art “you” would create besides the way you’d create it..

          • Iuwus September 7, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

            off topic but what’s your deviantart? i’ve recently started learning how to digital colour and i remembered you were pretty kickass at that.

          • bobbiethejean September 7, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

            Thanks. :) http://bobbie-the-jean.deviantart.com/ if you need any pointers or help with anything, let me know. :)

          • Giulio Prisco September 6, 2013 at 4:53 am #

            @Microhero, what you say is very wise. We are all part of the emergence of thinking and feeling life from dumb matter, and we can find meaning in this.

            But it takes a certain (a lot of) mental discipline to find happiness in this, and I think only some “hardcore” Buddhists (or Unitarian Universalists) can do so.

            The rest of us need some kind of belief, or at least suspension of disbelief, in some kind of continuation of the individual self after death. My work is focused on showing that such belief can be formulated in a way that is compatible with science, so we can pursue happiness without giving up science.

          • Microhero September 6, 2013 at 6:21 am #

            Improve yourself, have children and do your best to educate them well, make beautiful and useful things around you, care for others so as to influence their lives in positive ways,. Not easy but something to aim to… I imagine my entire life (not my ego) rippling into the future and slowly fading…
            The only chance at continuation I recognize, one which is not a goal in itself, rather a consequence of living what I consider a meaningful life.

            That being said, my perspective is for now, the one best shaped to fit my personal needs, and is constantly subject to refinement as what really matters is my inner peace and mental health and not some illusion that I have found the perfect answers to imperfect questions.

            It seems to me you’re working on what matters, reconciliation rather than segregation.

    • Niklas Beith September 3, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

      You could still drive yourself mad with the idea of ‘Why is there anything at all?’

      And people who believe in god or might ask, ‘why is there a god?’.

      Both of which are ultimately the same question.

    • James McLean Ledford September 4, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

      No bobbie. It is irrational to hold such antiquated thoughts about religion and God. Today God has turned into an evolutional and cultural direction to grow. Life attains a supreme state if being. Spiritual Transhumanists hope and work for the optimistic outcome for life..God
      And you are behind the times on resurrection too. Current cosmology indicates we live in a multiverse where it is inevitable that one of the countless universes in the bulk “hatches” the supreme state of being that meets all the criteria for God. This God-state of being looks into all the universes in the bulk including your time-line.. Like pulling a great recording off the shelf, you are resurrected in this way, sour notes included.

  3. Ted Heistman September 3, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    I think the first trans humanists will be some rich paranoid fucks like Vampires sucking the life out of the living in order to stay alive as long as possible. They will be paranoid because they can still die. Many of them will probably become trillionaires due to compound interest, and they will absolutely be a road block to new ideas. Picture people like Henry Kissinger and Karl Rove living for thousands of years. Thats the prospects of trans humanism.

    • Charlie Primero September 4, 2013 at 8:01 am #

      Ted, what you describe is called Synarchy, the diametric opposite of Anarchy…

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synarchy

      • Ted Heistman September 4, 2013 at 8:17 am #

        cool.

    • mel September 4, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

      …what the hell are you talking about

  4. kcorb September 3, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    An excerpt from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transhumanism

    Despite the prevailing secular attitude, some transhumanists pursue hopes traditionally espoused by religions, such as “immortality”…However, most thinkers associated with the transhumanist movement focus on the practical goals of using technology to help achieve longer and healthier lives; while speculating that future understanding of neurotheology and the application of neurotechnology will enable humans to gain greater control of altered states of consciousness, which were commonly interpreted as “spiritual experiences”, and thus achieve more profound self-knowledge.

    I don’t know why everyone assumes transhumanism is primarily about immortality. I guess it’s just peoples tendency to want to put everything into a box they already have established in their mind. Transhumanism = Religion for atheist = Digital afterlife.

    While I haven’t spent any meaningful amount of time researching it, I’ve always come away with the impression that it’s mostly about an evolutionary process whereby we become more and more integrated into our technology until we reach a point were the lines between human and technology start to blur. Those who identify as transhumanist are simply people that welcome this transformation and want to get to that point sooner rather than later.

    We’re already at a point where some people are only alive because of technology–like someone with a pacemaker or someone taking a drug that’s keeping them alive.

    • Iuwus September 4, 2013 at 3:40 am #

      I don’t think transhumanism is about us as much as we think. I think it’s about the new lives – practically our offspring – that will occur as a result. Integrating with the technology gives us ground to relate to them when they come. I already see ‘machine talk’ happening in us and our children who are much more internet/computer/generally tech conditioned than my generation is. Although judging on the way human children are treated and the fact we still enslave the other races on the planet to our emotional and practical needs I’m not particularly inspired as to our future parenthood status.

    • Giulio Prisco September 6, 2013 at 4:38 am #

      @kcorb re “Those who identify as transhumanist are simply people that welcome this
      transformation and want to get to that point sooner rather than later”

      Totally agree, this is a good essential definition of transhumanism. I will add that “spiritual transhumanists” see the fusion of humanity with its technology as a key to the transcendence promised by religions.

      • kcorb September 6, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

        Nice. So, unlike western religions for whom faith is an integral part of the religion and proof of gods existence is irrelevant or an anathema, the transhumanist would be searching for proof of god through technology. That would be a nice way of distinguishing true transhumanist spirituality from those that are simply aping western religion’s methodology and preying on peoples fear of death.

  5. jasonpaulhayes September 3, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

    “he also acknowledges, we may already be living in a simulated reality,
    run by advanced god-like beings, our immortality already guaranteed” … just another man afraid to live or die.

    An infinitesimal reality, immersed in one truth and one deceit.. within the gravitical singularity that is time and space, emerging from the incontestable, the eschaton, the intrinsic function of all and nothing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4HnonYuV_I

  6. BuzzCoastin September 3, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    frankly
    I think it’s pretty clear god doesn’t give a fly F about humans
    and it’s pretty clear humans are crazy about gods
    talk about yer unrequited love

    oh & transhumans
    even god is kinda put off by cyborgs
    but she does dig Scientology
    cause it’s the bulshityist of the bullshit

  7. Brock Origama September 4, 2013 at 5:56 am #

    So pretty much a new word for agnostic?

    • Giulio Prisco September 4, 2013 at 9:44 am #

      An agnostic football player says “I don’t know if we will win the game.”

      I say “we will win the game because we will do our f## best to win.”

  8. James McLean Ledford September 4, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    What is holding us back is antiquated thoughts about religion and God. Today God has turned into an evolutional and cultural direction to grow. Life attains a supreme state if being. Spiritual Transhumanists hope and work for the optimistic outcome for life..God

    Most are behind the times on resurrection too. Current cosmology indicates we live in a multiverse where it is inevitable that one of the countless universes in the bulk “hatches” the supreme state of being that meets all the criteria for God. This God-state of being looks into all the universes in the bulk including your time-line.. Like pulling a great recording off the shelf, you are resurrected in this way, sour notes included.

  9. Obvious Point September 5, 2013 at 2:43 am #

    “Pascal, argued that if one believes, yet god does not exist, nothing is lost in death. But, if god exists, the reward is eternal happiness.”
    Belief does not work that way. One cannot believe something for fear of the consequences for not doing so. By definition, one believes the things that one thinks are true. Being told that “You will burn for not believing” does not make the original claim any more plausible.

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