Weekend Coffee: November 8


• A Texas homeschooling family has been taken to court after allegedly refusing to teach their children anything at all since "they were going to be raptured". Of note, the family's 17-year-old daughter ran away from home because she wanted to go to school.• Violence in the Name of the Messiah: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish fundamentalists aim to create a theocratic state in Palestinian territory through terrorism. An infamous rabbinic document called "Torat ha-Melekh", or "The Law of the … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: Making the Blind See Again


As science marches on, the miraculous cures that past ages dreamed of are slowly becoming reality. We're gaining the ability to engineer new body parts, like windpipes and bladders, outside a person's body and successfully transplant them to replace a damaged or cancerous organ. Bionic exoskeletons to let paralyzed people walk again are becoming commercially available. And this month, the FDA approved the first artificial retina, designed to restore limited vision to people with certain kinds of … [Read more...]

Will Life Extension Mean the End of Religion?

I've been thinking in speculative directions lately, and nothing is more speculative than the question of whether we'll one day be able to extend the human lifespan. The notion of living longer is certainly pleasant to contemplate personally, but I'm not convinced it would be positive for humanity as a whole. As I wrote in "Who Wants to Live Forever?", the invention of anti-aging therapy could be a disaster, if it freezes the human race's moral opinions exactly as they are now: imagine North … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: December 18

In top news this week, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And in other news: • A paper in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that the HPV vaccine doesn't change girls' later sexual behavior. • A new survey by the Pew Center finds that the percentage of Americans who consider religion "very important", though still far greater than in Europe, has declined by 9% in the last 9 years. • And on a related note, the Institute for the Study of Secularism in … [Read more...]

Book Review: The Quantum Mechanic


Summary: A compelling atheist thought experiment, wrapped inside a cleverly plotted and fast-paced tale of transhumanist fiction.This isn't the first time I've reviewed a book written by a fellow blogger, but it's always a pleasure for me to do, and this one was particularly pleasurable to read. The Quantum Mechanic is a novel written by the blogger D - you may know her as the author of She Who Chatters - for 2009's National Novel Writing Month.The hero of TQM is Douglas Orange, … [Read more...]

Who Wants to Live Forever?

Last month's post "On Cryonics" outlined why I'm skeptical of that transhumanist doctrine. In today's post, I want to discuss more directly the goal which advocates of cryonics hope to attain - the achievement of immortality through technology that gives us the ability to halt or reverse the aging process.In this case, my objection is not one of feasibility. I think it's entirely possible that we'll figure out how to do this eventually. (We already know of species, such as lobsters or giant … [Read more...]

On Cryonics

Last summer I wrote a post, "Why I'm Skeptical of the Singularity", which gave some reasons for doubting that godlike machine intelligences will ever come into being. Today I'll discuss another idea popular among enthusiasts of transhumanism, namely life extension through cryonics. Here, too, I intend to offer a qualified skepticism.Overcoming Bias presents a strong case for cryonics, in a post which pleads with readers to sign up for the process. I'll use them as my foil. My own viewpoint, … [Read more...]

Why I'm Skeptical of the Singularity

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore made a famous observation: that the speed of computer hardware (to be precise, the number of transistors that can be packed onto an integrated circuit) tends to double every two years. In the four decades since, Moore's law has held true with remarkable accuracy. The technology to fabricate ever-smaller logic elements has steadily improved, leading to astounding increases in computer speed. The memory, bandwidth, and processing power available today in even … [Read more...]

On Transhumanism

One of the most optimistic - perhaps excessively optimistic - philosophies that take shelter under the umbrella terms of atheism and humanism is transhumanism. Transhumanism is a set of loosely associated philosophies which all share a belief in the desirability of transcending the biology of the human condition through technology.At the marginally more plausible end of the scale, this may entail feats of technology such as preserving the terminally ill by cryogenically freezing their bodies, … [Read more...]

To Be As Gods

I have to admit, I cringe when I read quotes like this:Max may be a long way from his old home, but he plans on going a lot further than America. Extropianism is a "rational transhumanism", he explains. There may not be any supernatural force in the universe, but pretty soon, suggests More, once we get our brain implants and robot bodies working, we will be as gods.The linked article is about Max More, a philosopher who advocates transhumanism - the idea that we can use technology to … [Read more...]