Transhumanism and Immortality – 21st Century Snake Oil

Before I start my rant, I recognize that the Transhumanism movement is chock full of cool ideas, many of which make complete sense, even though they are perhaps obvious and inevitable.  The application of science and technology to the betterment of the human body ranges from current practices like prosthetics and Lasik to genetic modification and curing diseases through nanotech.  It is happening and there’s nothing anyone can to to stop it, so enjoy the ride as you uplift your biology to posthumanism.

However, part of the Transhumanist dogma is the idea that we can “live long enough to live forever.”  Live long enough to be able to take advantage of future technologies like genetic manipulation  which could end the aging process and YOU TOO can be immortal!

The problem with this mentality is that we are already immortal!  And there is a reason why our corporeal bodies die.  Simply put, we live our lives in this reality in order to evolve our consciousness, one life instance at a time.  If we didn’t die, our consciousness evolution would come to a grinding halt, as we spend the rest of eternity playing solitaire and standing in line at the buffet.  The “Universe” or “All That There Is” appears to evolve through our collective individuated consciousnesses.  Therefore, deciding to be physically immortal could be the end of the evolution of the Universe itself.  Underlying this unfortunate and misguided direction of Transhumanism is the belief (and, I can’t stress this enough, it is ONLY that – a belief) that it is lights out when we die.  Following the train of logic, if this were true, consciousness only emerges from brain function, we have zero free will, the entire universe is a deterministic machine, and even investigative science doesn’t make sense any more.  So why even bother with Transhumanism if everything is predetermined?  It is logically inconsistent.  Materialism, the denial of the duality of mind and body, is a dogmatic Religion.  Its more vocal adherents (just head on over to the JREF Forum to find these knuckleheads) are as ignorant to the evidence and as blind to what true science is as the most bass-ackward fundamentalist religious zealots.

OK, to be fair, no one can be 100% certain of anything.  But, there is FAR more evidence for consciousness driven reality than for deterministic materialism.  This blog contains a lot of it, as does my first book, “The Universe-Solved!“, with much more in my upcoming book.

The spokesman for transhumanistic immortality is the self-professed “Transcendent Man“, Ray Kurzweil.  Really Ray?  Did you seriously NOT fight the producers of this movie about you to change the title to something a little less self-aggrandizing, like “Modern Messiah”? #LRonHubbard

So I came across this article about the 77 supplements that Ray takes every day.  From the accompanying video clip, he believes that they are already reversing his aging process: “I’m 65. On many biological aging tests I come out a lot younger. I expect to be in my 40s 15 years from now.”

He has been on this regimen for years.  So let’s see how well those supplements are doing.  Picking an objective tool from one of Ray’s own favorite technologies – Artificial Intelligence – the website how-old.net has an AI bot that automatically estimates your age from an uploaded photo.  I took a screen shot from the video clip (Ray is 65 in the clip) and uploaded it:

Ray Kurzweil Age

85!  Uh oh.  Hmmm, maybe the bot overestimates everyone’s age. I’m 10 years younger than Ray.  Let’s see how I fare, using a shot taken the same year at a ski resort – you know, one of those sports Ray says to avoid (Ray also claims that his kids will probably be immortal as long as they don’t take up extreme sports):

JimHowOld

I don’t know if it is the supplements that make Ray look 20 years older than he is, or the extreme skiing that makes me look 13 years younger than I am.  But I’m thinking maybe I’m onto something. [Note: I do realize that the choice of pictures could result in different outcomes.  I just thought it was ironic that the first two that I tried had these results]

Yes, I’m fairly confident that these supplements have some value in improving the function of various organs and benefiting a person’s overall health and well being.  I’m also fairly certain that much of traditional medical community would disagree and point to the lack of rigorous scientific studies supporting these supposed benefits as they always do.  On the whole, I suspect that, on the average, supplements might extend one’s lifetime somewhat.  But I doubt that they will reverse aging.  The human body is far too complex to hope that adding a few organic compounds would be sufficient to modify and synchronize all of the complex cellular and systemic metabolic chemical reactions toward a reversal of the aging process.  Kurzweil is obviously a very bright man who has had a significant entrepreneurial legacy in the high tech world.  However I think he and the rest of the materialist transhumanists are way over their heads on the topic of immortality and our place and purpose in the Universe.

My suggestion, Ray… skip the supplements, skip the self-promotion, skip the Google plugs, drive your goddamn car, and don’t be afraid to be active.  Stick with high tech, leave the evolution of the universe to its own devices, and enjoy the rest of this life.

Things We Can’t Feel – The Mystery Deepens

In my last blog “Things We Can’t See”, we explored the many different ways that our eyes, brains, and/or technology can fool us into seeing something that isn’t there or not seeing something that is.

So apparently, our sense of sight is not necessarily the most reliable sense in terms of identifying what is and isn’t in our objective reality.  We would probably suspect that our sense of touch is fairly foolproof; that is, if an object is “there”, we can “feel” it, right?

Not so fast.

First of all, we have a lot of the same problems with the brain as we did with the sense of sight.  The brain processes all of that sensory data from our nerve endings.  How do we know what the brain really does with that information?  Research shows that sometimes your brain can think that you are touching something that you aren’t or vice versa.  People who have lost limbs still have sensations in their missing extremities.  Hypnosis has been shown to have a significant effect in terms of pain control, which seems to indicate the mind’s capacity to override one’s tactile senses.  And virtual reality experiments have demonstrated the ability for the mind to be fooled into feeling something that isn’t there.

In addition, technology can be made to create havoc with our sense of touch, although the most dramatic of such effects are dozens of years into the future.  Let me explain…

Computer Scientist J. Storrs Hall developed the concept of a “Utility Fog.”  Imagine a “nanoscopic” object called a Foglet, which is an intelligent nanobot, capable of communicating with its peers and having arms that can hook together to form larger structures.  Trillions of these Foglets could conceivably fill a room and not be at all noticeable as long as they were in “invisible mode.”  In fact, not only might they be programmed to appear transparent to the sight, but they may be imperceptible to the touch.  This is not hard to imagine, if you allow that they could have sensors that detect your presence.  For example, if you punch your fist into a swarm of nanobots programmed to be imperceptible, they would sense your motion and move aside as you swung your fist through the air.  But at any point, they could conspire to form a structure – an impenetrable wall, for example.  And then your fist would be well aware of their existence.  In this way, technology may be able to have a dramatic effect on our complete ability to determine what is really “there.”

nanobot

But even now, long before nanobot swarms are possible, the mystery really begins, as we have to dive deeply into what is meant by “feeling” something.

Feeling is the result of a part of our body coming in contact with another object.  That contact is “felt” by the interaction between the molecules of the body and the molecules of the object.

Even solid objects are mostly empty space.  If subatomic particles, such as neutrons, are made of solid mass, like little billiard balls, then 99.999999999999% of normal matter would still be empty space.  That is, of course, unless those particles themselves are not really solid matter, in which case, even more of space is truly empty, more about which in a bit.

So why don’t solid objects like your fist slide right through other solid objects like bricks?  Because of the repulsive effect that the electromagnetic force from the electrons in the fist apply against the electromagnetic force from the electrons in the brick.

But what about that neutron?  What is it made of?  Is it solid?  Is it made of the same stuff as all other subatomic particles?

The leading theories of matter do not favor the idea that subatomic particles are like little billiard balls of differing masses.  For example, string theorists speculate that all particles are made of the same stuff; namely, vibrating bits of string.  Except that they each vibrate at different frequencies.  Problem is, string theory is purely theoretical and really falls more in the mathematical domain than the scientific domain, inasmuch as there is no supporting evidence for the theory.  If it does turn out to be true, even the neutron is mostly empty space because the string is supposedly one-dimensional, with a theoretical cross section of a Planck length.

Here’s where it gets really interesting…

Neutrinos are an extremely common yet extremely elusive particle of matter.  About 100 trillion neutrinos generated in the sun pass through our bodies every second.  Yet they barely interact at all with ordinary matter.  Neutrino capture experiments consist of configurations such as a huge underground tank containing 100,000 gallons of tetrachloroethylene buried nearly a mile below the surface of the earth.  100 billion neutrinos strike every square centimeter of the tank per second.  Yet, any particular molecule of tetrachloroethylene is likely to interact with a neutrino only once every 10E36 seconds (which is 10 billion billion times the age of the universe).

The argument usually given for the neutrino’s elusiveness is that they are massless (and therefore not easily captured by a nucleus) and charge-less (and therefore not subject to the electromagnetic force).  Then again, photons are massless and charge-less and are easily captured, to which anyone who has spent too much time in the sun can attest.  So there has to be some other reason that we can’t detect neutrinos.  Unfortunately, given the current understanding of particle physics, no good answer is forthcoming.

And then there is dark matter.  This concept is the current favorite explanation for some anomalies around orbital speeds of galaxies.  Gravity can’t explain the anomalies, so dark matter is inferred.  If it really exists, it represents about 83% of the mass in the universe, but doesn’t interact again with any of the known forces with the exception of gravity.  This means that dark matter is all around us; we just can’t see it or feel it.

So it seems that modern physics allows for all sorts of types of matter that we can’t see or feel.  When you get down to it, the reason for this is that we don’t understand what matter is at all.  According to the standard model of physics, particles should have no mass, unless there is a special quantum field that pervades the universe and gives rise to mass upon interacting with those particles.  Unfortunately, for that to have any credibility, the signature particle, the Higgs boson, would have to exist.  Thus far, it seems to be eluding even the most powerful of particle colliders.  One alternative theory of matter has it being an emergent property of particle fluctuations in the quantum vacuum.

For a variety of reasons, some of which are outlined in “The Universe – Solved!” and many others which have come to light since I wrote that book, I suspect that ultimately matter is simply a property of an entity that is described purely by data and a set of rules, driven by a complex computational mechanism.  Our attempt to discover the nature of matter is synonymous with our attempt to discover those rules and associated fundamental constants (data).

In terms of other things that we can’t perceive, new age enthusiasts might call out ghosts, spirits, auras, and all sorts of other mysterious invisible and tenuous entities.

starwarsghosts

Given that we know that things exist that we can’t perceive, one has to wonder if it might be possible for macroscopic objects, or even macroscopic entities that are driven by similar energies as humans, to be made from stuff that we can only tenuously detect, not unlike neutrinos or dark matter.  Scientists speculate about multiple dimensions and parallel universes via Hilbert Space and other such constructs.  If such things exist (and wouldn’t it be hypocritical of anyone to speculate or work out the math for such things if it weren’t possible for them to exist?), the rules that govern our interaction with them, across the dimensions, are clearly not at all understood.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t possible.

In fact, the scientific world is filled with trends leading toward the implication of an information-based reality.

In which almost anything is possible.

Yesterday’s Sci-Fi is Tomorrow’s Technology

It is the end of 2011 and it has been an exciting year for science and technology.  Announcements about artificial life, earthlike worlds, faster-than-light particles, clones, teleportation, memory implants, and tractor beams have captured our imagination.  Most of these things would have been unthinkable just 30 years ago.

So, what better way to close out the year than to take stock of yesterday’s science fiction in light of today’s reality and tomorrow’s technology.  Here is my take:

yesterdaysscifi

WikiLeaks, Denial of Service Attacks, and Nanobot Clouds

The recent firestorm surrounding WikiLeaks reminds me of one of Neal Stephenson’s visions of the future, “Diamond Age,” written back in 1995.  The web was only at its infancy, but Stephenson had already envisioned massive clouds of networked nanobots, some under control of the government, some under control of other entities.  Such nanobot swarms, also known as Utility Fogs, could be made to do pretty much anything; form a sphere of protection, gather information, inspect people and report back to a central server, or be commanded to attack each other.  One swarm under control of one organization may be at war with another swarm under the control of another organization.  That is our future.  Nanoterrorism.

A distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) is a network attack on a particular server or internet node.  It is often carried out by having thousands of computers saturate the target machine with packet requests, making it impossible for the machine to respond to normal HTTP requests, effectively bringing it to its knees, inaccessible on the internet.  The attacks are often coordinated by a central source who takes advantage of networks of already compromised computers (aka zombie computers, usually unknown to their owners) via malware inflections.  On command, these botnets initiate their attack with clever techniques called Smurf attacks, Ping floods, SYN floods, and other scary sounding events.  An entire underground industry has built up around botnets, some of which can number in the millions.  Botnets can be leased by anyone who knows how to access them and has a few hundred dollars.  As a result, an indignant group can launch an attack on, say, the WikiLeaks site.  And, in response, a WikiLeak support group can launch a counter attack on its enemies, like MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal for their plans to terminate service for WikiLeaks.  That is our present.  Cyberterrorism.

Doesn’t it sound a lot like the nanoterrorism envisioned by Stephenson?  Except it is still grounded in the hardware.  As I see it, the equation of the future is:

Nanoterrorism = Cyberterrorism + Microrobotics + Moore’s Law + 20 years.

Can’t wait!

ddos2 nanobots2_185

Jim and Craig Venter Argue over Who is more Synthetic: Synthia or Us?

So Craig Venter created synthetic life.  How cool is that?  I mean, really, this has been sort of a biologists holy grail for as long as I can remember.  Of course, Dr. Venter’s detractors are quick to point out that Synthia, the name given to this synthetic organism, was not really built from scratch, but sort of assembled from sub-living components and injected into a cell where it could replicate.  Either way, it is a huge step in the direction of man-made life forms.  If I were to meet Dr. Venter, the conversation might go something like this:

Jim: So, Dr. Venter, help me understand how man-made your little creation really is.  I’ve read some articles that state that while your achievement is most impressive, the cytoplasm that the genome was transplanted to was not man made.

Craig: True dat, Jim.  But we all need an environment to live in, and a cell is no different.  The organism was certainly man made, even if its environment already existed.

Jim: But wait a minute.  Aren’t we all man-made?  Wasn’t that the message in those sex education classes I took in high school?

Craig: No, the difference is that this is effectively a new species, created synthetically.

Jim: So, how different is that from a clone?  Are they also created synthetically?

Craig: Sort of, but a clone isn’t a new species.

Jim: How about genetically modified organisms then?  New species created synthetically?

Craig: Yes, but they were a modification made to an existing living organism, not a synthetically created one.

Jim: What about that robot that cleans my floor?  Isn’t that a synthetically created organism?

Craig: Well, maybe, in some sense, but can it replicate itself?

Jim: Ah, but that is just a matter of programming.  Factory robots can build cars, why couldn’t they be programmed to build other factory robots?

Craig: That wouldn’t be biological replication, like cell division.

Jim: You mean, just because the robots are made of silicon instead of carbon?  Seems kind of arbitrary to me.

Craig: OK, you’re kind of getting on my nerves, robot-boy.  The point is that this is the first synthetically created biological organism.

Jim: Um, that’s really cool and all, but we can build all kinds of junk with nanotech, including synthetic meat, and little self-replicating machines.

Craig: Neither of which are alive.

Jim: Define alive.

Craig: Well, generally life is anything that exhibits growth, metabolism, motion, reproduction, and homeostasis.

Jim: So, a drone bee isn’t alive because it can’t reproduce?

Craig: Of course, there are exceptions.

Jim: What about fire, crystals, or the earth itself.  All of those exhibit your life-defining properties.  Are they alive?

Craig: Dude, we’re getting way off topic here.  Let’s get back to synthetic organisms.

Jim: OK, let’s take a different tack.  Physicist Paul Davies said that Google is smarter than any human on the planet.  Is Google alive?  What about computer networks that can reconfigure themselves intelligently.

Craig: Those items aren’t really alive because they have to be programmed.

Jim: Yeah, and what’s that little code in Synthia’s DNA?

Craig: Uhhh…

Jim: And how do you know that you aren’t synthetic?  Is it at all possible that your world and all of your perceptions could be completely under programmed control?

Craig: I suppose it could be possible.  But I highly doubt it.

Jim: Doubt based on what? All of your preconceived notions about reality?

Craig: OK, let’s say we are under programmed control.  So what?

Jim: Well, that implies a creator.  Which in turn implies that our bodies are a creation.  Which makes us just as synthetic as Synthia.  The only difference is that you created Synthia, while we might have been created by some highly advanced geek in an other reality.

Craig: Been watching a few Wachowski Brothers movies, Jim?

Jim: Guilty as charged, Craig.

CraigVenterGod

Entropy and Puppies, like a Hand and a Glove

Ah yes, the good old 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. The idea that the total disorder of a system, e.g. the universe, always increases.  Or that heat always flows from hot to cold.  It’s why coffee always gets cold, why money seems to dissipate at a casino, why time flows forward, why Murphy had a law, why cats and dogs don’t tend to clean up the house.

Ultimately, due to this rather depressing physical law, the universe will die by “heat death,” where it reaches a state of absolute zero, no more heat, no motion of particles.  Don’t worry, that’s not predicted for another 10^100 (or, a Googol) years.  But, I always wondered, is it always always the case, or can entropy decrease in certain circumstances?

Got a spare fortnight? Google “violations of the second law of thermodynamics.”  Personally, I rather like Maxwell’s idea that it is a statistical argument, not an absolute one. “Maxwell’s Demon” is that hypothetical device that funnels hot molecules in one directions and cold ones in the opposite, thereby reversing the normal flow of heat.  Could a nanotech device do that some day?  Yes, I know that there has to be energy put into the system for the device to do its work, thereby increasing the size of the system upon which the 2nd law holds.  But, even without the demon, aren’t there statistical instances of 2nd Law violation in a closed system?  Not unlike the infinitesimal probability that someone’s constituent atoms suddenly line up in such a manner that they can walk through a door (see recent blog topic), so could a system become more coherent as time moves to the future.

What about lowering temperature to the point where superconductivity occurs?  Isn’t that less random than non-superconductivity.  One might argue that the energy that it takes to become superconductive exceeds the resulting decrease in entropy.  However, I would argue that since the transition from conductive to superconductive occurs abruptly, there must be a time period, arbitrarily small, during which you would watch entropy decrease.

There are those who cite life and evolution as examples of building order out of chaos.  Sounds reasonable to me, and the arguments against the idea sound circular and defensive.  However, it all seems to net out in the end.  Take a puppy, for instance.  Evolutionary processes worked for millions of years to create the domestic dog.  Entropy-decreasing processes seem to responsible for the formation of a puppy from its original constituents, sperm and an egg.  But then the puppy spends years ripping up your carpet, chewing the legs of the furniture and ripping your favorite magazines into little pieces; in short, increasing the disorder of the universe.  Net effect?  Zero.

shakespeareandleash185

How to Walk Through a Door

I had a brainstorm the other day on how we might someday be able to walk through a door.  And I don’t mean from a metaphysical standpoint, I mean really physically walk through the door.  If you think about it, there really should be a way to make it happen.  After all, our bodies and the door are almost 100% empty space.  I would argue that Programmed Reality says it is completely empty space, but that topic will have to be for another post.

An electron, in Newtonian mechanics, can be stuck on one side of an impenetrable barrier.  In QM, however, its wave function can be partly on one side of a barrier and partly on the other side at the same time, which allows for the possibility of “tunneling,” a common effect in semiconductors.  In fact, were it not for the wave function nature of QM, transistors, and therefore cell phones, computers, satellites, and all other sorts of modern technologies would not even exist!

tunneling

Interestingly, this theory does not only apply to subatomic particles, but also to macroscopic objects like me, you, and Donald Trump’s hair.  Since our bodies are composed of particles, each of which are just wave functions, your body is simply the superposition of these zillions of wave functions, thereby creating its own “macroscopic” wave function.  Theoretically, for this reason, you have a finite probability of passing through a wooden door, much like the electron tunneling effect.  But, don’t try it.  Because, when you sum up all of your constituent particles’ wave functions, there is a mathematical tendency for the probabilities of large-scale anomalous quantum effects to be extremely small.  It is analogous to flipping pennies.  The odds that a single penny comes up heads (electron passes through the barrier) is 50-50, but the odds that 1000 pennies all come up heads (you pass through the door) is 2^^1000 (equivalent to a 1 followed by 301 zeros, an impossible to imagine large number) to 1.  And you have a helluva lot more than 1000 subatomic particles in your body.

But what if those particles in our bodies and/or the door were made to be coherent?  That is, in our penny analogy, all pennies behave the same behavior.  Impossible?  Not so fast, Einstein.  LASERs are a great example of coherence, where all photons are of the same frequency and are in phase.  Aren’t particles of matter just a different form of particle from the photons and could they be organized to be coherent as well?

Turns out that is exactly the case and it is known as Macroscopic Quantum Tunneling.  U of Illinois researchers have demonstrated such an effect with electrons (real matter) in a nanowire.  Superconductors, superfluidity, Bose–Einstein condensates are examples of properties that seem to defy conventional physics by having their constituents occupy coherent states.  Macroscopic Quantum Coherence is a predicted property, yet to be observed in the laboratory, but probably inevitable, whereby all atoms in the piece of matter observing that property are in-phase and are described by a single quantum wavefunction.  Well, that wavefunction allows for the possibility of matter being anywhere, or “tunneling” through a thin enough membrane of material.  Let’s say that, not unlike a laser, we could get all of the atoms in our bodies to be coherent.  Might it not be possible to “tunnel” through a thin membrane of coherent material?

Effectively, we would have walked through a door!

Yes, I know that all of the different atoms in our bodies might not be made to be coherent with each other.  Then again, think about radio waves of different frequencies.  In general, they can’t be in phase with each other, except at one particular point.  Fourier analysis of a waveform with a discontinuity, like a step function or a delta function, has, at the point of the discontinuity, all frequencies in phase.  Could there ultimately be a way to accomplish that with the mere several dozen atomic frequencies present in our bodies (And who cares if that stray bit of Uranium in your spleen is left behind on the other side of the door.  Would you really miss it?)  So maybe the trick is to pulse the coherence into your body just as you walk through the door.

Then there is the problem of how to get each planar sliver of your body to have the same tunneling capability sequentially.  Like, so you don’t end up with a door stuck in your chest, all Jeff Goldblum-like.  Seems to me that maybe it’s just a matter of applying continuous pulses of coherence into your body as you walk through the door.  For each planar sliver, one of the pulses will eventually make you progress to the next sliver.  Just hope the machine doesn’t break down midway through.

So, there you have it.  One, ultra high frequency multi-atomic coherence pulser.  And you’re walking through walls.

walkingthroughawall