Transhumanism

complements of Bavarian Intl School @BIS_School_gAG

There is a group of scientists who are suggesting that human beings will be replaced by intelligent machines. As machines become more and more intelligent, they will surpass their human creators. At that point, they will have evolved from mere machines to a new form of conscious life. The fear is that this consciousness will resolve the messiness of human life by removing it from the environment. In that future humanity will either combine with the machines or become overwhelmed by our, now intelligent, creations.

Many scientists and science fiction authors have explored the ramifications of such a singular intelligence and it interactions with the “wet-ware” of humanity. One group proposes an evolutionary jump toward the “trans-humanism,” the integration of humanity and technology into a new higher level of sapiens. Transhumanists believe that they will be able to guide human evolution in such as way as to eliminate many of the ills of our inherently fragile bodies. We would be able to improve on humanity’s currently messy physical design, eliminating sickness, old age, and death. But, in addition, we would also be able to attain new levels of intellectual capabilities independent of the constraints of our material bodies.

This view devalues and eventually eliminates physicality. It is, in this scenario, the frail human body that is keeping us from achieving our full intellectual capabilities. When we have managed to integrate humanity and the intelligent machines, we will surpass and eventually eliminate any vestige of humanity as we know it.

One fear is that our transhuman descendants will not think of whatever of Homo sapiens remains kindly but will instead see us as evolutionary competitors. Over humanity’s evolutionary history, we have evolved a moral code that moderates our interactions with the other part of the natural world. However, the question arises of whether our transhuman descendants will honor that, or any, moral code. When the machines are finally fully intelligent, when they are no long under our control, will they destroy the last vestiges of the humanity they left behind?

In an article published in the Spring 2003 issue of The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society, Charles T. Rubin, a professor of political science at Duquesne University, suggests one way of defending against this future is to develop a defense of human life that valorize the extra-intellectual aspects of humanity including “love and excellence, courage and charity”. That it is our physicality, what he calls our “human finitude” we need to consider.

Perhaps we need to begin to see human beings, individually and as a group, are more than minds imprisoned in frail bodies. Instead we need to find a way to overcome Cartesian dualism and re-unite mind and matter in new and exciting ways. We need to begin re-valuing all aspects of ourselves, including all the sensual aspects that make life wonderful, including our finitude.


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Transhumanism

Overcoming Human Finitude

complements of Bavarian Intl School @BIS_School_gAG

There is a group of scientists who are suggesting that human beings will be replaced by intelligent machines. As machines become more and more intelligent, they will surpass their human creators. At that point, they will have evolved from mere machines to a new form of conscious life. The fear is that this consciousness will resolve the messiness of human life by removing it from the environment. In that future humanity will either combine with the machines or become overwhelmed by our, now intelligent, creations.

Many scientists and science fiction authors have explored the ramifications of such a singular intelligence and it interactions with the “wet-ware” of humanity. One group proposes an evolutionary jump toward the “trans-humanism,” the integration of humanity and technology into a new higher level of sapiens. Transhumanists believe that they will be able to guide human evolution in such as way as to eliminate many of the ills of our inherently fragile bodies. We would be able to improve on humanity’s currently messy physical design, eliminating sickness, old age, and death. But, in addition, we would also be able to attain new levels of intellectual capabilities independent of the constraints of our material bodies.

This view devalues and eventually eliminates physicality. It is, in this scenario, the frail human body that is keeping us from achieving our full intellectual capabilities. When we have managed to integrate humanity and the intelligent machines, we will surpass and eventually eliminate any vestige of humanity as we know it.

One fear is that our transhuman descendants will not think of whatever of Homo sapiens remains kindly but will instead see us as evolutionary competitors. Over humanity’s evolutionary history, we have evolved a moral code that moderates our interactions with the other part of the natural world. However, the question arises of whether our transhuman descendants will honor that, or any, moral code. When the machines are finally fully intelligent, when they are no long under our control, will they destroy the last vestiges of the humanity they left behind?

In an article published in the Spring 2003 issue of The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and SocietyCharles T. Rubin, a professor of political science at Duquesne University, suggests one way of defending against this future is to develop a defense of human life that valorize the extra-intellectual aspects of humanity including “love and excellence, courage and charity”. That it is our physicality, what he calls our “human finitude” we need to consider.

Perhaps we need to begin to see human beings, individually and as a group, are more than minds imprisoned in frail bodies. Instead we need to find a way to overcome Cartesian dualism and re-unite mind and matter in new and exciting ways. We need to begin re-valuing all aspects of ourselves, including all the sensual aspects that make life wonderful, including our finitude.


Join Dr Mary Ann’s Academy to receive free periodic emails about my upcoming projects.

Publication Plans

Looking forward to my 2019 book

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Several years ago, after publishing my first novel, The Baron’s Box, I decided that I was going to try to publish a novel every year. Last year I barely got The Third Way out before the end of the year. I think that silly broken arm had something to do with my lack of productivity last fall. 😉

As we move into the summer season, it’s time for me to begin the final push on this year’s book. Although my latest, tentatively entitled The Hybrid, is still being reviewed by my critique group, it is time to begin thinking about its publication and marketing.

To begin that process, I’d like to get a cover designed but before I can do that the book needs a real title. When I did a survey of similar titles on Amazon almost everything “hybrid” was a paranormal/shape shifter/werewolf story. Since my story explores the interface between natural and artificial intelligence in the late twenty-first century that marketing space doesn’t seem right. So I’m considering other options.

I’m open to your have ideas. I’ll let you know when I decide.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this synopsis:

In the spring of 2091, 42-year old April Marshall is diagnosed with early-onset non-Alzheimer’s dementia. Devastated, she puts herself under the direction of Dr. Indresh Patel, a senior researcher in mind/machine interfaces at the Texas A&M Medical Center, Brain Research Center in Houston.
 
Dr. Patel doesn’t offer her much hope until he invites her to become his first patient in an experimental program. By embedding a Sentient Adaptive Matrix (SAM), a form of artificial intelligence, into her brain, he suggests he might be able to supplement her natural mental functioning and maybe even return her cognitive abilities.
 
It isn’t until the matrix is installed and activated that April realizes all is not what it seems, and the SAM is more than she expected.


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Raven’s Nest: Experiencing Life’s Magic

I have some noisy new neighbors. For years the ravens living in the ravine below my home have used one of the sunshade over my southern windows as a launch site for the courting acrobatics. This year a pair decide that the other set of slats would be a great place for their nest. It’s hard to see from inside the house but a rough construction of sticks appeared in the end of March.

Raven's nest

Now, in mid-May, I can hear hungry sounds of raven babies every time one adult lands nearby. I haven’t seen the hatchlings as the nest faces the ravine with a three-story drop to the path below but the deep calls of the parents and the more high-pitched cries of the little ones are unmistakable. (My friend Connie managed to get a great photo of the nest and its fuzzy inhabitants.)

Raven Magic

Ravens have blessed my cohousing community since it was formed almost 25 years ago. Watching them ride the thermals is a source of pleasure for many of us. However, over the last several weeks I’ve been wondering what it means to have a mated pair take up residence on my home.

According to Jamie Sams’ and David Carson’s Medicine CardsRaven is magical shape-shifter who portends change. Often, they say, the change is unexpected but transformative, refashioning life’s challenges into great blessings. 

This is a time of transformation for me. For the first time since earning my Ph.D. in 1999, I won’t be teaching in the fall semester. For twenty years, I have plied my academic trade. Writing and publishing three books and innumerable articles. Last fall was the first year I didn’t attend the American Academy of Religion conference since graduate school and I don’t expect to attend any future conferences. It seems strange that this will be the first summer in twenty years I won’t spend preparing for future classes.

After I published the third of my academic books, my friends asked me what my next project would be. I didn’t have any plans for additional academic work. It was then I decided to learn how to write fiction. I had begun my professional career as a technical writer producing policy and procedure manual along with computer user manuals. Graduate school taught me a different form of writing, so I was confident I could learn still another style of writing. Over the last several years, I have been applying my writing skills toward fiction. I have self-published two books, The Baron’s Box and The Third Way with another, tentatively entitled The Hybrid, in preparation.

Besides learning the craft of the novel, I have had to learn marketing techniques. Choosing to self-publish means that there is no publishing house behind me pushing my novels out to interested readers. However, I’ve discovered even if a book is traditional published it is up to the writer to do the bulk of its promotions.

So I can see some changes coming into my life:

more time for writing and perhaps an accelerated publication schedule, an enhanced focus on the marketing side of the business with a goal of getting my work in front of more willing eyes. Not teaching means more time to devote to the other important parts of my life including my community, my church and my sweet husband.

But, Raven portends unexpected change, challenges becoming great blessings, the possibility of experiencing a little more of life’s magic. Maybe this is the time to willingly enter the void, the center of all creativity. Perhaps I will follow my neighbor-babies out of the nest and into some great beyond. We’ll see. 

Thoughts on the End of Life: Just Keep Me Comfortable and Allow Me to Die


from https://newatlas.com/tau-molecule-diagnose-dementia-alzheimers/57617/

Recently I finished reading Dementia Reimagined by Dr. Tia Powell. The first two-thirds of the book is a survey of the history of dementia treatment from the Medieval period to today. It’s scary to realize how badly we have treated demented people over time, but what’s scary is how badly people are treated today.

However, the most interesting part of the book is the last third where she talks about how she would like to live both in the earlier and later stages of dementia. Like me, both her mother and grandmother died from or with dementia. Not necessarily Alzheimers but some other generalized version of the memory loss that often accompanies old age. The prevention of dementia, like many diseases hinges on diet, exercise and various types of intellectual stimulation. People with more education or an active intellectual life fall into dementia later than their cohorts. I’ve seen this explained as: dementia slowly breaks the connections between brain cells and more educated or otherwise intellectual stimulated people have more connections to break, slowing down the external progress of the disease.

However, Dr. Powell goes beyond that simple bromide (diet, exercise and an active mind) to think about the lives of people caught up in dementia. She says for most people there is a ten-year period between their first diagnosis and death with a slow (or sometimes fast) fallingoff of mental abilities. She suggests thinking about what activities one might enjoy during those early years and preparing for that time.

People with dementia enjoy music, particularly the music from their youth, long past the time they can appreciate anything else. So, she suggests, putting together a playlist of your favorite music against that time. Her list includes popular tunes from the Earth, Wind and Fire, Aretha Franklin and others, songs with special meaning for her and her family including songs performed by or for her children. Creating such a playlist, she says, allows you to look back over your life and collect moment of joy you can share with your future self.

Another thing she suggested that I find appealing is being willing to enjoy the things of childhood as the mind reverts to its most basic self. Demented people, who are mostly women, enjoy playing with dolls, for example. Apparently, many people find that distressing, but, she asks, why? Why shouldn’t caregivers allow the demented whatever brings them pleasure? I still have a doll from my childhood. Perhaps I’ll antagonize my caregivers by taking her everywhere with me.

Similarly, Dr. Powell suggests for people who enjoy reading and stories that, as the ability to follow complex literature, to give the demented children’s stories to enjoy either as traditional or audio books. She’s already pulling together the books she read to her children and collecting other children’s classics for her demented self to enjoy. I can imagine enjoying audio book, perhaps even more than the musical play list. It’s possible I’ll enjoy having some disembodied voice reading to me even past the point where I can follow the plot or even follow the moment story.

The hardest part of dementia is the last years, when the person is definitely dying of either the disease itself or some other failing of old age. There seems to be an effort by many caregivers to prolong that dying process in some mistaken notion that death is worst that living with extreme dementia. For many people who were caregivers for their own demented loved ones there’s the desire not to prolong this period. She suggests thinking through how and how much you want to be treatedduring this time. Most advanced directives don’t include an understanding of the dying process for the dementia, so she suggests documenting your decisions and talking to those you expect to be your caregivers. I was struckby one line that I think summarizes her (and my) view of these decisions: in severe dementia, keep me comfortable and don’t stand between me and the exit. There is a point where continuing to live with dementia is too hard and many people want to be letgo. This is what I want, no ventilators, resuscitations, feeding tubes, or other unhelpful treatments. Just keep me comfortable and allow me to die.

I know this may be difficult for my loved ones. It’s often hard to let a dying person take that final journey. I think it may be especially hard when the final days, months, even years have been difficult for the caregivers. I know that even the most loving caregivers gets tired and want it all to end. These thoughts are then followedby those of guilt about wanting the demented one “to die.” I want to tell them I, too, want to die and not be forcedto hang on unnecessarily out of misplaced feelings of guilt or regret.

Even if you aren’t concernedabout dementia as you age, I think there is some benefit in thinking about that final journey. Many of the things Dr. Powell suggests might prove comforting for someone dying from some other cause. It seems worthwhile to think about it and perhaps to even make plans.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Thoughts on Collections

I just finished reading The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan. It is the story of a man, (and then a woman) who picks up things he finds around, catalogs them, and hopes in some way to reunite them with their owners. Intertwined are the stories of the things and the occasion of their loss. I highly recommend the book.

I am also reading Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon. In this book he has a chapter called “Open up Your Cabinet of Curiosities: Don’t Be a Hoarder,” where he says that we all are own own keeper of lost things. We all have a collection of all the things and experiences, thoughts and dreams of our lives. Some of these things are physical, books and knick knacks, while others are only in our hearts and minds. He suggests finding ways to share this collection.

The latest self-improvement fad is based on Maria Kondo’s best seller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I haven’t read the book but understand that one of the criteria Konmari uses to decide whether an item should be allowed to stay or should be discarded is whether it “sparks joy.”

I know there are many things in my life, utilitarian things, that I must keep even though they don’t necessarily spark joy in my life. However, I think I understand what all three of these authors are talking about. I think I understand that are are special physical and non-physical things in our lives that bring a special pleasure that we may or may not be able to share with others.

Although I’ve accumulated many things over the course of my life, I have never been a focused collector. I’ve tried but I get two or three pieces in my collection, and then get bored with the process of looking for and displaying them. So I tend to pick up things that I like without any consideration of how they will fit with everything else I own. Since I’ve become a daughter of Yemaya, I do seem to be more drawn to oceania, things of or representing the ocean, but even in that case, I can’t seem to maintain my attention.

One thing that some people say, is that we should collect experiences instead of physical things. Several years ago, I came to the conclusion that among the cognitive skills my mother lost as she aged was the ability to remember many of the experience of her life without help. She had scrapbooks from her many trips but she never, to my knowledge, looked at them. Instead it was the things around her that sparked her memories. Photos of her children and grandchildren, kept them alive for her when they lived too far away for regular visits. She kept other of the things close that not only brought her joy but helped her remember people and events.

I often have periods when I was feel especially afraid of falling into that type of dementia. Not Alzheimers, per se, but a simple lost of memory, short and longer term. I decided that important events needed to be memorialized by physical objects that would spark a memory or at least bring back the pleasure of an experience. Perhaps, you can say this is the kind of response Konmari is talking about but it probably leads to more clutter than she may be comfortable with. I have several trips scheduled over the next several months. Each will be a special and unique experience. Each should be memorialized with some token of remembrance.

Thinking about Kleon’s idea of our work coming out of our personal curiosity cabinet, I don’t feel as though my writing is a way to share the experiences of my life. I’m not writing memoir. My characters live in times and places completely alien to me. However, I am sure that there is a bit of my life in each thing I write, thoughts and dreams that slip out below the radar of my awareness. I do find the work of creating these characters, putting them in bad situations, and then helping them to escape brings me a special type of pleasure.

Are you a collector of things or experiences of both? Tell us about it in the comments section below

Help Design the Next Tale from the Bardo

I’m thinking about writing a a new “tale from the Bardo” and would like your help making some decisions.

As the writer, I’ve always thought The Baron’s Box only explored a small portion of the huge place that is the Bardo. So, in thinking about the next story, I don’t feel constrained to include any portion of the locations, secondary characters, or other elements in the first story.

However you, as the reader, may have certain expectations and I was hoping you could share them with me.

Here are some of the things I’m thinking about. Please put your thoughts in the comments and feel free to engage with each other.

Locations:

  • Do you think opening and closing with water is important?
  • Are there any other locations you’d like me to explore further, for example,
    • The Empyrean, including the Pavilion
    • The Baron’s Palace
    • The Nether Realm
    • Kore’s Temple
    • Or would you like the next story to be in a completely different location?

Characters

  • Would you like one or more  of these secondary characters included in the next story?
    • Aurora
    • Sigrún, the Valkyrie
    • Ankou
    • Volos
    • The Baron,
    • Anubis
    • Wolf and his pack
    • The lost souls in the Nether Realm
    • Neti
    • Ereshkigal
    • Kore
    • Someone else you’d like to know more about
  • I envision the next story will have additional souls, perhaps a group of five. Should I keep the convention that everyone is named “Sam” or “Sara” or chose another naming convention?
  • All the souls in The Baron’s Box were young, white people — nothing like they were when alive. Do you think other parts of the Bardo should have more diversity?

Themes

  • Rebirth/Return was an essential feature of The Baron’s Box that surprised many readers. Should that theme continue into the next story or would it be distracting if you already “knew” that’s how the story will end?

National Novel Writers Month (NaNoWriMo)

For the seventh year in a row I’m been participating in the challenge called National Novel Writers Month (NaNoWriMo).

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo  is a fun approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo since 2012. According to their records I’ve written more than 300,000 words over the years. As you can imagine you don’t end up with a perfectly polished novel at the end of a 30 day sprint toward 50,000 words but I’ve found it’s an great way to jumpstart a story. The Baron’s Box began life as a NaNoWriMo story several years ago

I am currently polishing The Seventh Sister, last year’s NaNoWriMo work in the hopes of publishing it mid-2018. This is the story of group of women in a near-future world who band together to save themselves and their families from a group of bandits the are terrorizing their small farming community.  Their home of Verdant Valley is the agricultural center of the enclave known as the Babapupa Reserve. For all the years of the drought, the officials of Verdant Valley have given the motorcycle gang known as the Demon Spawn a portion of their harvest to stave off worst depletion. Now the Spawn want more. More than the people of Verdant Valley can pay and survive.

Early next spring I’ll be looking for beta readers for this work. Please let me know if you’d be interested in join that small group of early readers. And watch for more information about The Seventh Sister as I get it ready for publication.

This year’s story, tentatively entitled The Hybrid, follows April Marshall who, after a prognosis of early-onset non-Alzheimer’s dementia, is invited to participate in a study that offers the possibility of delaying or reversing her decline through the implantation of an artificial intelligence device. Of course, all is not what it seems and April’s device become more than she expected.

Welcome to the New Dr Mary Ann’s Academy Blog

I’ve been neglecting this blog for many (many) months but starting today I’m going to try to do better. My plan is to add two new posts a month.

Around the second week of the month I’ll be updating you about my current writing projects and letting you know how you can learn more about The Baron’s Box. The fourth week of the month I’ll be sending you something I think is interesting. It might be a tidbit from one of my current works in progress, a review of something interesting I’ve read, my thoughts of the state of the world (but not too much political content, you’ve got plenty of other places to read that!). I may even experiment with new media — a video or cartoon, perhaps.

For today’s update you may be pleased to know I’m again participating in National Novel Writer’s Month. NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. Winners get the pleasure of having written, some goodies from the sponsors, plus a lovely print-it-yourself certificate. I’ve participated for several years — The Baron’s Box began life as a NaNoWriMo project.

My project this year, tentatively entitled The Hybrid, tell the story of April Marshall who begins the story with the prognosis of early-onset non-Alzheimer’s dementia. She is invited to participate in a study that offers the possibility of delaying or reversing her decline through the implantation of an artificial intelligence device. As of this writing I’m about 25,000 words into the story. Wish me luck.