A Transhuman Views the Singularity Summit 2011

Last weekend (10/15-16/2011) it was my pleasure to attend Singularity Summit 2011, an event presented annually by the Singularity Institute since 2006. As much as Arse Elektronika celebrated the freedom of citizen science and engineering in pursuit of more fun and joy for everybody, so Singularity Summit celebrated actual and potential financial success and public welfare enhancement from emerging technologies.

Noisebridge—Mecca for Hackers

It seems to me, as an activist and advocate for real time living, based on transhuman ideals, including especially intergender forms of self-expression, that both these events were worthy explorations of important social territory; however, the logistic and organizational differences were striking and illuminated an undesirable dichotomy in the community of Transhumanists.

Arse Elektronika was held in various San Francisco hangouts and groovy venues,  including the Chez Poulet gallery, Carol Queen’s Center for Sex and Culture, and Noisebridge, a well-known cooperative hacker lab. A four day ticket cost $50. While there were certainly people talking about having sex with machines, there were also a lot of people who are more interested in the idea of building machines people would want to have sex with. Their machines become proxies for their erotic organs. Very transhuman. Very sexy. Very real.

Kaufmann Concert Hall

Singularity Summit was held in the 92nd Street Y in midtown Manhattan, in a richly paneled auditorium that seated a bit over 900 people. Golden letters above the stage proclaimed “DAVID, MOSES, ISAIAH” and were flanked in equal grandeur by “WASHINGTON” and “JEFFERSON.” A two day ticket cost $560, including two light buffet meals each day. The great men of the day (Ray Kurzweil, John Thiel, et al.) put in appearances long enough to give rah-rah speeches and promptly went back to real work. The ideals of social justice were served by an outstanding presentation from Jaan Tallinn, a founder of Skype and Kazaa. I cannot recall any discussion of sex, except when I was explaining the VenusPlusX vision to some innocent bystander. Very transhumanist. Very male, wealth-oriented, and NYC. Another reality.

The difference in privilege represented by these two communities would be overwhelming when applied to social issues, except that most of the world doesn’t seem to care much about the opinions of either one of them. One community is empowered by vast “new money” from development of innovative technologies that have made valuable improvements to the lives of billions. The other community is empowered by grasping and trying to live the truth as they feel in their innermost being and by “having nothing left to lose.” Yet each represents something that is missing from the other vision. And while neither group would wish to live and be the other, there is an essential common thread of unified purpose that can transcend fear and bring unity to the collective purpose of enabling and accelerating the emergence of the New Age.

The mega-capitalists who came to Singularity Summit present themselves as a highly ethical group, well aware of their responsibilities to the earth and its peoples for the wise stewardship and utilization of their wealth. Let us expect that each will genuinely and personally commit to uphold and support rational short and long-term enhancements to technology and society. Let us further expect that they will forego opportunities for egocentric, exploitative, and bullying behavior, even though this might give them greater apparent power and prestige.

Many social objections to the innovative visions of Transhumanists, including much work described at the Singularity Summit, will only be overcome by changing public attitudes towards adventure and risk taking for the improvement of the human condition. Grassroots activists and friends of sex, such as the folk from Arse Elektronika and a host of other organizations and activities, are undermining social attitudes of erotic repression, changing hearts and minds and supporting the transformation of religion, government, and business required to free humanity from its unfortunate and inhibiting past.

As a transhuman observing the behavior of these groups seeking transcendence through technology and the commercialization of technology, it seems to me that both groups are missing essential elements by focusing on the “scientific” and “materialistic” to the exclusion of other ways of knowing, understanding, and living that represent a much greater stream of the collective human consciousness.

To the comfortable capitalists, society is a great machine that produces ideas, creative geniuses, and lots of workers building good things for other workers and buying good things from other workers. Investors who appreciate the opportunities born of invention will take risks that uplift the common good. But there is an intuitive side of human socialization that may provide answers to problems not amenable to frontal assault through material technology. There are intellectual factors of communication and education, which this conference tried to address, as well as spiritual factors of human motivation, which this conference ignored.

To the sexy socialists, society is a system that assures fairness and equality of opportunity to every person. It is expected that the gifted and unusually successful children of such a community will give back to the society a measure of help and assistance as they are able. Though these pioneers may be driven by the desire to give people more and better orgasms, and intuitively understand the benefits, they have yet to understand the new age frontier in which erotic techné can combine with spiritual techné to make erotic joy even better and truly spiritually uplifting.

The time has come to begin the unification of these two disparate approaches to social organization and liberation of the future. Investment and serious development of erotogenic technologies can only occur by overcoming the social stigma that attach to anything suggesting hedonism. VenusPlusX proclaims a new vision of the future to humanity—a future in which physical, mental, and spiritual joy are all accepted as worthy human pursuits and gifts from god, finally to be unified in the individual happy person. To quote the gospel according to Goldilocks:

  • Eros without agape is too hot.
  • Agape without eros is too cold.
  • Eros and agape together are just right!

Only by beginning human liberation with sincere erotic transcendence can a new and secure foundation for human development be laid. This needn’t involve conflict, nor any misconceived battle between human and divine, or between body, mind, and spirit. We can all agree: erotic sensation and the joy of orgasm are fundamental and desirable aspects of human experience. For those who dare, combining this power, this divine gift, with the quest for personal growth and personality integration will lead to full participation of the individual in the supreme harmonies of life.

A sane and happy people will embrace the promise of the future with open arms and a whole heart. And through spiritually deployed erotic technology the chains will fall away from all lesser forms of human achievement.

What is the Name of God?

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También en español In his 1953 sci-fi story, The Nine Billion Names of God, Arthur C. Clarke imagined a Tibetan monastery where monks labored ceaselessly to list every permutation of letters in their alphabet and thus to list every possible name of god, fulfilling their destiny and bringing about the end of the universe. With the help of a computer (in 1953!) they finish the job in three months instead of 15,000 years, after which…

Ten emanations of deity

Humanity has long been preoccupied with knowing the name of god. Priests, magicians, and other charlatans tell the gullible that knowledge of the name gives power. For priests, it gives the power to tell the faithful to believe the priests are uniquely able to speak to god on their behalf, both to solicit the boons of providence and atone for past transgressions. For magicians, it gives the power to summon and direct divine forces and influences, as if, by knowing the name, one could forge god’s signature on an order to a company of angels. And, just to make sure the rubes don’t figure out the scam, the unholy are forever barred from ever uttering the name on penalty of eternal damnation. Isn’t it odd that so many people have blindly accepted this kind of bulshyte?

The ancient cultures of the levant had many gods with many names—El Shaddai, El Elyon, Yahweh, Elohim, El, and more—all of which finally collapsed into the tetragrammaton, YHVH, in Romanized Hebrew. With no vowels, like most written semitic languages, the letters merely indicate a spoken word already known to the reader. More to the point, with so many possible vowel substitutions, nobody has any idea (unless informed by an oral tradition) of how to correctly pronounce the word. And, of course, be it prayer or magic, everybody knows that god won’t pay attention if you don’t get the inflection of his name exactly right. Of course, YHVH is pretty much the way you’d write Yahweh if you left out the vowels, except it’s an improved form and you can’t be sure the old vowels really work to get the old guy’s attention anymore. In the meantime, the variant Jehovah or Jehovih has been accepted widely in fundamentalist, evangelical, pentecostal, and some other really batshit crazy cults.

Christianity, like Judaism and Islam, features a singular omni-cubed deity presiding over a legendary cosmic horde that somehow takes care of whatever happens on earth (and maybe elsewhere if there is an elsewhere). Although this idea is usually called God, that is a presumptive description, not a personal name. Cults that have a Christian origin frequently use the term Father, which derives from Jesus’ use of the term during his ministry, as recorded in the Christian gospels, as well as the prior beliefs of the Jews. And Christians further identify Jesus with the Father, since Jesus is said to be the Son of God. And he was called Yehshweh or Joshua, written as YHShVH. And of course mystical significance is attributed to the appearance of the Sh, symbolic of the spirit, in descent at the precise midpoint of the YHVH. Wow!

Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury

To name God, we must define God. Unless we know who or what we are talking about, have identified him or it, there’s no point in asking for a name. Around 1070, Anselm of Canterbury framed the idea of God as “that than which a greater cannot be thought” in his famous Ontological Proof of the existence of God. While most philosophers today accept the validity of the proof, with some qualifications, it clearly does not prove the existence of God, unless you accept Anselm’s definition, which is basically that of an omni-cubed deity that is totally all-pervasive and totally involved in the dynamic upholding of everything we perceive as finite reality as well as (probably) a great deal more. Thus, if this presumptive deity is to treat all creation equally, we will not find this God personally intervening in the affairs of individuals, except by providence. In effect, although one may choose to believe in the existence and power of the omni-cubed deity, one is forced to admit that there is no objective way to directly and unambiguously observe that God’s existence in Real Life.

Suppose we clarify Anselm’s term “greatest” to be “perfectest.”Ahhh, we are not allowed to compare perfections (at least not in conventional English language). Rather, we say things are imperfect, partially perfected, or completely perfect as a first approximation to the relativity of perfection. So we might say God is “that which is absolutely perfect in all respects.” But Anselm’s simple logic doesn’t make sense here, because our ability to imagine such a thing is questionable and perfection is an absolute reality outside space and time towards which the finite universe is evolving. We can only utter a sound offered as a name, but we cannot properly describe or conceive of such perfection. The absolute deity is, from the viewpoint of time and space, irrevocably committed to upholding the causal consistency and realizing the inevitable destiny of the finite universe as it evolves towards final perfection.

Venus, god of Love

So, in reality, we see the possibility of two concepts of complete deity. First is the absolute deity outside the finite universe who is committed completely to keeping the framework of finite reality intact and ongoing, along with a lot of other universe activities. Second is the supreme force of destiny manifested by its influence over space-time affairs and its interactions with volitional beings of its own creation and evolution.

The first, absolute deity, is thus the existential foundation of all that can be and is. Uniform in power throughout space and time, this first deity gives all that there is to the realization and support of a universe populated with potentially deified identities. If we seek to name such a power, a stable form that gives meaning and consistency to our universe experience, we would have to call it “Love.” And if you stop thinking “God” with all the craziness your culture has attached to that word, and think “Love” instead, you will soon be developing a healthier viewpoint and attitude. In the final analysis, Love is the desire to do good to others, and Love is the best name for God that we have.


The second, finite deity, is thus the source of the evolution-driving force of destiny that bends finite sequential linear factual causation to the arc of destiny’s fulfillment. Love inspires action, but action cannot be satisfied unless good is actually being done. It is necessarily the work of this second, finite deity to arrange orderly evolution of the universe towards a goal of finite perfection, akin to the absolute perfection of Love, but evolved in time from initial existence to final perfection. If we name such a power, a dynamic influence that shapes our Love-inspired actions to maximize the accomplishment of good, we would call it “Truth.” And, if you stop thinking “what do I do now” with all the confusion of everyday life and act in the spirit of “Truth” instead, you will soon be developing an easier, more orderly, and much more effective approach to life. We have called this god “Truth,” the guidance of will in the application of action to the doing of good and the realization of beauty. We will explore this concept more fully in our next post, “What is the Word of God?”

When you think about what kind of God might mean something to yourself, remember that the omni-cubed existential absolute and perfect deity is unnoticeable unless one seeks to find a cause to explain the existence of the universe. We affirm that such a God is known to us through recognition of Love as the upholding structure of reality. On the other hand, the active, evolving, self-perfecting deity manifest as the force of destiny acting in time and space we can observe as we draw on Truth to direct our actions of will in the doing of good. Truth is the name of the active, saving deity that saves us from the uncertainties of right and loving action in seeking to do good and make beauty.


…and The Model is Not the Action (Sex is not Gender)

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The field of General Semantics introduces patterns of thought required for success in computer programming and related subjects, and I’ve been struck by how much its basic ideas of cleaning up human thought by insisting on principles like “the map is not the territory” correspond to real life and all language.

In the 1930s, when Korzybski began to popularize this thought, relatively few people were interested in this subject that had largely been the domain of professional philosophers. Today, this sentiment is so commonplace in many technological areas it is hardly worthy of note, yet the less informed non-technical community will fall into this way of thinking, and propagandists often use it to distort the behavior of their ignorant fellows.

Systems engineering, broadly defined as the application of systems science to the real world, is an approach to solving large problems by assembling smaller components to achieve a goal that is “more than the sum of its parts.” It is an informal way of analyzing situations and synthesizing solutions that emerged in the 1940s from work done on developing a nationwide telecommunications system. Systems engineering knows no recognized debt to General Semantics, although the name/thing dichotomy is fundamental to its epistemology. From the application of systems engineering principles, the use of the scientific method in the evaluation of complex systems, technologists are gaining more advanced understanding of the problems of accurately representing real world experience.

One of the major areas of computer usage today is simulation of complex systems to predict peformance and operating characteristics. A simulation describes a virtual activity as if it were occurring in reality. Thus, a simulation of a nuclear power plant is a bunch of data that describe, in physical terms, the state of every component of the plant. The simulation also determines how the physical state of each component will evolve in time. Thus, core temperature is a state of the core, a data item that represents the expected or known value of a real world quantity. Simulations estimate the state of the system at the next instance of time from all the data and relationships it possesses about the system—the change in core temperature is estimated from current data using credible rules of change. This collection of data and the rules for proceeding from one time step to the next is called a model of the system.

LEGO Model of Ancient Calculator

There are many kinds of models, such as a LEGO block model of a pyramid or an ancient astronomical calculator, that are easy to grasp as different from the function of the thing modeled. In each case materials and processes that may or may not relate to a real world product are used to convey a critical idea of the product, without representing (and thus becoming) the product itself. Put very directly, a model of a nuclear power plant will not light a lightbulb, although the thing that is being modeled can power a large city. The model will simply report that, under certain assumptions, the plant will provide an estimated amount of power. The real power plant is a complex assemblage of material that actually exists. The model power plant is a coarse approximation to some of the behavior of the real plant. It helps create understanding by eliminating excessive detail, but what if the information thought to be mere “detail” is, in reality, what makes the thing work the way it does?

If the model is correct for a wide range of conditions, we have a useful model, which yields a plausible estimate of results in “normal” situations, even though it may incorporate no understanding of the activity it purports to describe. And here lies the danger of loose thinking. Seeing the predictive power of the model, people easily come to believe it represents either the way the world actually works or, worse yet, how it should work. And for many areas of experience, like the matured elements of 20th century engineering disciplines (mechanical, electrical, aeronautical, nautical, automotive, etc.) this is entirely satisfactory for routine projects as long as no situation unanticipated in the model can arise to invalidate the model’s assumptions (like an undersea earthquake and the resulting tsunami).

But consider what emerges when the model is computational and it models another, more complex computation. In this case, since everything, real and virtual, is the product of an abstract computation, it is easy to confuse the model with reality. While no one believes that a LEGO model of a locomotive will inform the design of a device for rail transportation, almost everyone believes that a dichotomous model of sex and gender phenomena determines how human relationships are constructed in reality, although the most casual observation shows that real human relationships do not agree with this dichotomous model in any way, since they emerge from sex distinctions only through a very long and complex sequential development process. This elevation of an egotistical construction of the human mind, based on incompetent observation of reality, to the level that almost everyone in our society is forced to order their lives in accordance with this delusion, represents a temporary triumph of mass insanity over the truth and reality of all our personal experiences and observations.

Existing models of social categories fail the test of rationality for two reasons. First, they provide a small or dichotomous choice of labeled properties of the world as data. Second, they fail to recognize the fundamental multidimensionality of all living experience. Nowhere in all human thought and philosophy is this conceptual failure to understand the nature and role of models in science and technology more profound and more injurious to individuals and society than in the complete misapprehension of the nature of sex and gender that oppresses all human activities on this planet.

First consider the insane idea of the dichotomy of human biological sex. It has been noted that over 99% of all humans have either XX or XY sex chromosomes (but not both) in their somatic cells. This is a biological fact. If one then creates a model that says “all humans have either XX or XY sex chromosomes (but not both) in their somatic cells” that model is not correct. If one goes further to say “all persons with XY sex chromosomes have penises” and “all persons with XX sex chromosomes have clitorides” the model becomes much worse in its ignorance of a growing mass of variant sex presentations. When the ignorant and bigoted satraps of human society go even further to assert “all persons with XY sex chromosomes are men” and “all persons with XX sex chromosomes are women” the foolishness reaches a climax of stupidity. At this point it is correct to quote  the late Richard Feynman who would tell his students that their model, their idea, is “not even wrong,” that is, it incorporates so many incorrect assumptions as to have little relationship to the thing it purports to describe. But the foolish, irrelevant oversimplification has hardly begun and grows rapidly to serve the forces of oppression.

The failure of all human philosophy about sex and gender on the biological level is made worse by the failure to recognize the rich multidimensionalty of reality, compressing the common conceptual model even further to dichotomous models such as “men work best with men, women with women” or “men do not dress like women, nor women like men” or “men only share erotic play with women, and women with men.” Not only is the basic biology reduced to a false model, lacking a continuum of intermediate values, but also independent levels of genetic sex, sex expression, sexual orientation, social affinity, gender identity, and gender orientation are assumed to be all one thing, determined by genetic sex. An XY body has a penis and fucks XX bodies that don’t. The XY is socially attracted to other XYs and all of them think they are people who wear pants and fuck people who wear dresses, having no idea of the reality of gender.

And such people have largely succeeded in convincing everyone in the world that their blighted understanding, obviously silly at every turn, is the way the world should work and that anything that does not fit this asinine model should be suppressed.

The growth in application of rational methods of analysis and synthesis to understanding inadequately explored aspects of everyday life, driven by the great growth in general understanding of information and systems technology, at least among us geeks, is bringing for a new generation of thinkers, whose superior vision of the true realities of sex and gender freedom will displace permanently the foolish ideas of their pastfathers. Today’s state of social and economic injustice calls for more than mental exercise, it requires bold action to reverse these false hypotheses that create bad thinking and discriminatory laws.

A more complete discussion of the levels and dimensions of sex and gender expression is provided in my paper, I Am an Intersex Bisexual Transgender and So Are You.

—Dan Massey

The Name is not the Thing and…

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This is the story of the great change in the accepted understanding of human language that occurred in the last century and how it is forcing extensive public reevaluation of large bodies of “received wisdom.”

In less than one century a logical/linguistic misconception has become a hallmark of ignorance and illiteracy. It has so dominated popular thought as to give rise to so-called “Christian Fundamentalism” and numerous other literalist philosophies that greatly inhibit social progress. The second part of this story will explain another logical/linguistic misconception that continues to distort human understanding of the foundation of society, specifically the free expression of sex and gender.

Ignorant literalism led to the conflation of terminology with reality in public understanding of sex and gender throughout the last century, a problem that is now being corrected through death and technology. A complex literalism that insists human theories are more correct than observable facts, suppresses counter-evidence, and ignores the rich complexity of life in favor of simple categories and labels, continues to plague our society. However, the application of elements of the “scientific method” to address a wide range of non-technical issues is beginning the liberation of human thought from the simple man’s effort of trying to force the world to be something other than it actually is, again with specific reference to issues of sex and gender freedom and expression.

My first exposure to this dichotomy, the real world as opposed to the real world as described by random men, was when a classmate shared with me The World of Null-A by A. E. Van Vogt. At 13 or 14 years of age, I couldn’t quite understand the plot at the time, maybe because I could only sneak a chapter or two every afternoon during dramatics club rehearsals. Later I was to learn that most people had to stretch their imaginations a lot to make sense of a Van Vogt plot. At the top of every chapter, in italics, was a brief saying, such as “the map is not the territory” or “the word is not the thing defined” and it would be signed with an enigmatic “A.K.” Another classmate (we were all hooked) whispered “General Semantics” to me and I thought that sounded like something really neat, especially since this guy in the story, this Gilbert Gosseyn (that’s “go-sane”) has two brains and all kind of superpowers, especially including the ability to see and understand and react appropriately to whatever is going on. And, an S. I. Hayakawa essay was being taught in class at the same time, and he was a General Semanticist, whatever I thought that was.

Later, The Players of Null-A was published, giving me an even greater thrill of the rational mental powers unleashed by “non-Aristotelian” logical thinking. And, although it was clear that the novels were mid-century futurist fantasy stories, there was something that stirred my imagination and belief that the ideas were not just fantasy and might have some grounding in reality. Twenty years later, I decided to try to learn more about this and many other subjects in connection with my professional career developing computer architectures. I knew that “A.K.” was Alfred Korzybski, who had set forth a philosophy of rationality that he called General Semantics in his 1933 book Science and Sanity. Van Vogt was a believer in General Semantics and incorporated many of Korzybski’s ideas into the Null-A novels. But by that time (1970’s) something much more powerful was in motion.

One of the curious things about the rise of computer technology is that every fundamental and important thing for starting the revolution and interpreting its capabilities and limitations was already in place by the 1940s. In many ways, the developments since that time (before computers) have been in engineering technology to create increasingly better realizations of ideas that were well developed by metamathematicians like Alonzo Church and Alan Turing in the 1930s. Of course, each major generation in technology has brought greater capability, and increasingly powerful applications have abstracted and incorporated these capabilities to create increasingly useful tools for information manipulation; however, the fundamental process of computing conforms to the limits first understood by Turing and Church.

But beyond mere computing machinery and fundamental mathematical limits, we found the job of representing a task to a computer (programming) to require a kind of orderly thinking that leaked over and influenced the way we software designers think ourselves. We early learned to use “variables” or “handles” to allow us to identify and manipulate the data objects on which we wished the machine to operate. We understood that a name of a quantity can be assigned a meaning that has no relationship to the actual quantity or the literal letters of the name. We can use a name like “fuel” to allow us to designate a numeric quantity of liters. And we well know that the letter string “f-u-e-l” is not itself something you can run your car on. Although f-u-e-l identifies and allows us to manipulate such a number. The name is not the thing. Us geeks were first to use these concepts routinely in our work.

When I investigated General Semantics, I found amazing how many their basic ideas of cleaning up human thought by insisting on principles like “the map is not the territory” corresponded to patterns of thought required for success in computer programming and related subjects. In the 1930s, when Korsybski began to popularize this thought, relatively few people, except some professional philosophers, were interested in this subject, Today, this sentiment is so commonplace in many technological areas as to hardly be worthy of note, yet the less informed non-technical community, as well as insincerely motivated propagandists, will fall into this way of thinking or even use it to distort the behavior of their ignorant fellows.

Van Vogt captured from General Semantics and popularized the “cortico-thalamic pause.” Basically, this is the systematic consideration of every conscious reaction in the context of a stimulus. A very simple example suffices. If someone slaps your cheek, what do you do? Although you may instinctively react in some way, the goal of the c-t pause is to give you time to construct a superior, even optimal response. In short, life is not all about quick action/reaction, like a game of speed or agility. Rather, every reaction, no matter how quickly chosen, should be based on sound thinking about what has just happened. Van Vogt’s hero is always reacting in unexpected and superior ways to the actions of others, and, since this is science fiction and he has an extra brain, the mere act of c-t breaking always gives him enough shift of perspective to master the situation instantaneously (even when he has to teleport across the room or wake up in a different body—wow). Although we don’t have two brains, I have always found the c-t break to be rather wise advice and try to employ it when I can muster the patience and good sense to do so. In computer programming and debugging it can be very helpful in clearing the mind of incorrect binding of names as things. In managing one’s life it can be a life-saver.

Next we will examine how overly simplistic thinking and incorrect reasoning lead directly to sex and gender oppression.

—Dan Massey