Thursday 25 November 2021

Confusing selection-replacement with transformative developmental-evolution... The covertly suicidal impulse in Artificial Intelligence, Transhumanism, and Oneness spiritualities

There is a very prevalent logical error that pervades our culture; so thoroughly pervades it that it is all-but invisible, and difficult to understand. 

The error is to confuse annihilation and replacement, with transformational development

This error was made clear to me only in recent years and through reading Owen Barfield; but until that point (around 2014) I too was in thrall to the mistake. 

We have a deep, ancient and primary understanding of 'evolution' as a process akin to the development of an acorn to an oak tree, and egg to a chicken, a newborn baby to an adult. 

That is, we understand evolution to be a transformation of the self - while retaining the identity of the self. 

This could be called developmental-transformative evolution

In this primary understanding of evolution; the Being remains itself - but changes form. 

Thus, if we (as Christians) imagine our future spiritual evolution from this mortal life to resurrected eternal life; this is a 'process' during which we remain our-self but undergo developmental or transformative changes in both body and mind. 

The result is that our resurrected eternal self is the same person as he was during mortal life. And in Heaven we can 'recognize' others whom we knew in mortal life: they are still themselves.

But from the time that evolution by natural selection became a dominant social paradigm (during the late 1900s) there has emerged a qualitatively different conception of 'evolution'

This could be called selection-reproductive evolution

The key to this concept is selection acting on reproduction. Evolution of this sort 'happens' after reproduction, and is defined in terms of changed offspring. Therefore it is Not about transformation of the same-self; but replacement of the original parent by following generations. 

With selection-reproductive evolution; a variety of different types - different selves - compete; some reproduce differentially more than others; and evolution has occurred when either one or just-some of the original selves continue to reproduce. 

Meanwhile the other selves have Not reproduced, and their continuity has been annihilated. 

So this concept is based on Darwinian ideas of natural selection; and entails not transformation but replacement. After such selectional evolution, what persists is Not the previous self - but a different self: a different Being; because offspring are different Beings than their parents.  

In a brief phrase: natural selection is reproductive replacement. It is all-about replacing one thing with some other thing

Some survive and others do not; and those which survive replace those which do not. 

Because if the identity of the organism is being defined in terms of its genetic composition; then any genetic change is itself a kind of replacement. 

Following Barfield; I believe that many people are often deeply confused between these two concepts of evolution. The seem to believe emotionally that they are proposing a developmental-transformative evolution; when in fact they are advocating replacement of one thing by another. 

For instance; when people are keen on a future based upon Artificial Intelligence, or the Transhumanist changing of Man (by means of drugs, genetic engineering, inorganic implants, links to computers or the internet etc); they seem to suppose that this is an transformational enhancement of Men

But in fact such aspirations are simply the annihilation of Men and their replacement. Replacement of Men with... something else. 

In spiritual terms; AI and Transhumanism are therefore advocating covert suicide: suicide, because they themselves (and all other Men) will cease to exist; covert, because this desire for self-destruction is hidden by an irrelevant focus on what might replace us. 

This is closely analogous to a plan to solve the problems of this Earth by exploding the planet - and then calling Mars 'the new and better Earth'. Maybe Mars is better (fewer problems), maybe not - but better or worse, Mars is Not an evolved Earth; it is some-thing different. 

So much is fairly obvious; but the 'afterlife' proposed and yearned-for by many people shares this fundamentally suicidal impulse; because it hopes for the total destruction of the body, the self, the ego and all that is individual - by its absorption into the impersonal and discarnate divine.  

I am talking about the Oneness spiritual movement - which is so much a feature of the New Age in The West. This talks constantly about how all things truly are one, and how separation into persons is an illusion (Maya), and a 'sin'; and separation of Man from God is an illusion and a sin. 

According to Oneness; in reality there are no persons, no Men - only one God; and that God is not a person - because the divine encompasses everything, so there can be no definition or description of God. 

Nothing specific can be said about the divine except for an infinite series of denials of all less-than-total claims of God's nature: i.e. a negative theology of what God is not.

To hope for the 'evolution' of my-self, and Mankind, into One; is therefore to hope-for one's own annihilation and replacement. 

There would be - could be -  no continuity between me-now, and now living Men - and the aimed for annihilation of separateness into divine unity.

Oneness spirituality is not to solve any of the problems of the world; but to destroy the world - to destroy every-thing... and replace it with something else. 

It is solving the problem of misery and suffering in life, by ending all life - by killing everything. 

In other words; Oneness offers exactly the same kind of 'solution' to the problem of Man's mortal life as does Artificial Intelligence and Transhumanism

Oneness is just as much a covert advocacy of suicide, as are the schemes of technological replacement of Man by... 'something better'. 

And the reason why this is not immediately obvious; is that our culture has become deeply confused by the two concepts of evolution.

And has erroneously carried-over the spiritual aspirations of evolution understood as transformative-development, into the annihilation-seeking mechanisms of transformative-replacement.


ted said...

Hi Bruce, how do you see reincarnation, which many New Thought/Age people believe in, fitting in with this argument? Seems to me they would really fall with the developmental-transformation evo-concept more so; however, it is not quite how Christians see things with the afterlife.

Stephen Macdonald said...

Once more Bruce you shed light on an area where very little is to be found today.
These ideologies are highly seductive and very dangerous. Part of my career took place in Silicon Valley. Even though I was a Christian at the time, I began to obsess over Ray Kurzweil's prophesied Singularity. At the time I thought much about how to reconcile this alien creed with my Christian beliefs. In due course I came to a similar conclusion to you. I now regard transhumanism as quite literally satanic.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ted - Yes, reincarnation fits with the developmental evolution; or at least the type of reincarnation espoused by Owen Barfield.

@:Nova - I too was pretty deep into transhumanism before I became a Christian. Many of my publications up to 2008 can be found on the site

agraves said...

In the headlong rush to get rid of Christianity in the sixties the youth picked up Yoga, Vedanta, Taoism, etc. These basically say there is only one reality and your personality is an illusion. In these philosophies, when you ask a yogi what happens to an unrealized person after death they have no idea or at least they will say they have no idea. The eastern teachers won't give Westerners a satisfactory answer regarding life after death because it contradicts the oneness of their teaching. The contradictions in Buddhism are too many to mention: on one level there is no "you" just aggregate of impulses and yet they are willing to consult oracles to communicate with past llamas in the Bardo. So how do you communicate with impulses that have no intelligence or agency of their own? And what value could that be?

Brief Outlines said...

Right on.

jpt4 said...

Do chronospecies fit into this metaphor?

Bruce Charlton said...

@jpt - I haven't come across the concept - first, I would need to determine whether or not chronospecies was a distinct and valid concept (not obviously so, from a quick perusal); after which I suppose the question would have answered itself.

Nicholas Fulford said...

Oneness is a statement that the universe is singular - arising from an instantiation event whereby a bounded space-time began to unfold. Hence within a universe the instantiated properties and initial conditions unfold via time. (This is not unlike iteration of a fractal equation but is more complex since randomness in the form of quantum mechanical events breaks up the clockwork determinism of the 19th century.)

Another consideration is that quantum mechanics permits evolution through introducing mutation and that beneficial mutation is adaptive or evolving. Hence, the substrate of the universe adapts to permit the expression of greater complexity - a more intricate and refined weave - but that what was instantiated at t=0 has not changed its characteristics, nor can it within a universe. It would be like changing the values of some of the universal constants. (Yes, one can argue that the very brief period of inflation was a period that fixed the universal constants in the post-inflationary universe.)

The universe is the visible expression of what was instantiated and that expression over time is one in which I am both contingent and necessary. (Necessary because I exist and contingent because if the history of the expression were different there would be deviation and I would not exist.) The particular is inseparable from the universe that it is expressed within, and hence is not an in itself. Self is emergent and shifts over time - albeit with greater and lesser degrees of stickiness such that the person I was is no longer the person I am or will become. Even so, I experience a sense of subjective continuity or *self* which is persistent. The existence of that subjective frame is not inconsistent with being inseparable in fact from the unfolding universe, and that which drives it from instantiation.

Evolution is a process that yields greater - adaptive - complexity in expression based upon a history that goes back to t=0. There is no local self standing alone from the universe it is expressed within despite how it feels.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - If your metaphysical assumptions were correct, there is no way you could know anything of what you have stated: human cognition would have no validity, neither would science.