The Link Between Transhumanism And The Metaverse

Reality is already 3D and immersive, so why do we need a cheap imitation called the Metaverse? The answer lies in Transhumanism and its quest to escape mortal bounds to enter into immortality, omniscience and transcendence, all of which are possible in the Metaverse but not in real life. Parents: Keep your children away from the Metaverse. — Technocracy News & Trends Editor Patrick Wood

1. The Gospel of Progress

Ever since the archaic divergence of humanity from other hominids, our systems of tools and symbols have developed at an accelerating pace. We depend less and less on the physical capacities of our bodies. We operate more and more in the realm of information: data, words, numbers, and bits.

Quite naturally then, we have conceived an idea of progress that celebrates this development, and a destiny narrative that foresees its endless continuation. Its future is one where we integrate technology ever more fully into our bodies, until we become something more than just bodies. It is one where we immerse ourselves so fully in representation, that virtual reality becomes more compelling to us than material reality. The first is called transhumanism, the second is the Metaverse.

Here is a typical example of this vision, courtesy of The Guardian:

Ageing cured. Death conquered. Work ended. The human brain reverse-engineered by AI. Babies born outside of the womb. Virtual children, non-human partners. The future of humanity could be virtually unrecognisable by the end of the 21st century.

The title of the article is “Beyond our ‘ape-brained meat sacks’: can transhumanism save our species?” In it one can see a kind of anti-materialism, an ambition to transcend our biology, to transcend our very selves which are, the article suggests, little more than sacks of meat with a brain inside. We are destined for more, better. This anti-materialist prejudice also shows up in the aspiration to end work—to end the requirement that we use our physical bodies to move matter—as well as in the ultimate ambition, to triumph over death itself. We will have then indeed transcended biology, with its cycles, We will have transcended matter, with its impermanence.

That goal has always been implicit in the ideology known as progress. It equates the advancement of the human species with improvements in our ability to control nature and make its functions our own. When we replace the shovel with the bulldozer, that’s progress. It aspires to a Godlike estate of lordship over nature. Descartes, arguably the most important preceptor of modernity, put it famously in his declaration of human destiny: to become through science and technology the “lords and possessors of nature.” The passage following it prefigures the ambitions of The Guardian article quoted above. Descartes says,

And this is a result to be desired, not only in order to the invention of an infinity of arts, by which we might be enabled to enjoy without any trouble the fruits of the earth, and all its comforts, but also and especially for the preservation of health…. and that we could free ourselves from an infinity of maladies of body as well as of mind, and perhaps also even from the debility of age…

Transhumanism is nothing new. It continues a prehistoric trend toward increasing dependency on, and integration with, technology. When we became dependent on fire, our jaw muscles shrank and our digestive enzymes changed. The subsequent development, hundreds of thousands of years later, of representational language transformed our very brains. The material technologies of domestication, pottery, metallurgy, and finally industry created a society wholly dependent on them. Visions of silicon-brain hybrids operating digital control centers, served physically in all respects by robots, living wholly in an artificial reality, represent merely the culmination of a trend, not any change in direction. Already and for a long time, humans have to some degree lived in a virtual reality—the reality of their concepts, stories, and labels. The Metaverse immerses us in it still further.

Since transhumanism represents progress, it is no wonder that progressives tend to support it. A key tenet of progressivism is to bring the benefits of progress to all, to distribute them more fairly and universally. Progressivism does not question its own foundations. Development is its religion. That is why the Gates Foundation devotes so much of its resources to bringing industrial agriculture, vaccines, and computers to the Third World. That’s progress. It is also progress to move life online (work, meetings, entertainment, education, dating, etc.) Perhaps that’s why Covid lockdown policies met so little resistance from progressives. By the same token, ready acceptance of vaccines makes sense if they too represent progress: the integration of technology into the body, the engineering of the immune system to improve upon nature.

What leftists seem not to notice is that these versions of progress also enable the encroachment of capitalism into more and more intimate territories. Do you think the immersive AR/VR experience of the Metaverse will be free of advertising, perhaps so subtly targeted as to be invisible? The closer our integration with technology in all aspects of life, the more life can become a consumer product.

Again this is nothing new. The Marxian crisis of capital (falling profit margins, falling real wages, evaporation of the middle class, proletarian immiseration—sound familiar?) has been forestalled only by the constant expansion of market economies through two main vehicles: colonialism and technology. Technology opens up new, high-profit domains of economic activity to keep capitalism running. It allows more of nature and human relationship to be converted into money. When we depend on technology for such things as clean drinking water, resistance to a disease, or interacting socially, then these things swell the realm of monetized goods and services. The economy grows, return on financial investment stays above zero, and capitalism continues to operate. My dear leftists—if ye indeed remain leftists (and not authoritarian corporatists; that is to say, crypto-fascists)—can you please reevaluate your political alliance with the ideology of progress and development?

The promoters of the transhumanist Metaverse describe it as not only good, but inevitable. It may seem so, given that it is an extension of an age-old trend. I hope though that by making its underlying myths and assumptions visible, we can exercise a conscious choice in embracing or refusing it. We need not continue down this road. Other paths fork out in front of us. Maybe they aren’t as well lit or obvious as the eight-lane superhighway toward transhumanist technotopia, but they are available. A portion of humanity at least can choose to depart this particular axis of development and turn toward another kind of progress, another kind of technology.

2. Flavors Spoil the Palate

Colors blind people’s eyes; sounds deafen their ears; flavors spoil their palates. – the Tao Te Ching

Years ago I took my son Philip with his friend to see a movie. We put on 3D glasses and were treated to all kinds of objects seemingly bursting out of the screen. “Wouldn’t it be awesome if the real world were 3D, just like the movies?” I jokingly asked.

The boys thought I was serious. “Yeah!” they said. I was unable to explain my irony. On-screen reality was so vivid, stimulating, and intense that it made the real world seem boring by comparison. (Read full story here.)

Well, it seems my 11-year-old was in good company. Consider these words from Julia Goldin, LEGO’s chief product & marketing officer:

To us, the priority is to help create a world in which we can give kids all the benefits of the metaverse — one with immersive experiences, creativity and self-expression at its core — in a way that is also safe, protects their rights and promotes their well-being.

Wowee, an “immersive experience.” Sounds great, doesn’t it? But hold on here—aren’t we already in an immersive experience called 3D reality? Why are we trying to recreate what we already have?

The idea, of course, is that the artificial reality we create will be better than the original: more interesting, less limited, yet also safer. But can the simulation of reality ever match the original? That ambition rests on the further assumption that we can convert all experience into data. It draws on the computational model of the brain. It assumes everything is quantifiable—that quality is an illusion, that anything real can be measured. The recent to-do about the Google employee, Blake Lemoine, who leaked transcripts of conversations he had with an AI chatbot who asserts its own sentience taps into the computational theory of the brain and consciousness. If even consciousness arises from the disposition of zeros and ones, then what is it for something to be real?

Vespertina. by Greg Spalenka.

Neural net AIs seem to us to be modeled after the brain, but it may be more the reverse: we impose the neural net model onto the brain.1 Certainly the brain has superficial similarities to an artificial neural network, but there are also profound differences that our computationalist prejudices ignore. A catalog of neural states is much less than a full brain state, which would also include all kinds of hormones, peptides, and other chemicals, all of which relate to the state of the entire body and all its organs. Cognition and consciousness do not happen in the brain alone. We are beings of the flesh.

It is not my purpose here to offer a detailed critique of computationalism. My point is to show how readily we accept it, and therefore believe that one could engineer any subjective experience by manipulating the appropriate neurons.

Even if it cannot equal reality, the simulation is usually a lot louder, brighter, and faster. When we enter the intense “immersive experience” of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and extended reality (XR), we become conditioned to its intensity, and suffer withdrawal when limited to the (usually) slow predictability of the material world. Conversely, it is the stripping of intensity from real world experience from within our safe, climate-controlled, insulated bubbles that makes AR/VR/XR attractive in the first place. Something else that happens with our habituation to intense stimuli is that we lose the capacity to exercise other senses and other modes of sensing. Orienting more and more toward that which shouts the loudest, we no longer tune into quieter voices. Accustomed to garish colors, we no longer perceive subtle hues.

Fortunately, all that is lost may be recovered. Even standing silently in the woods for half an hour, the slow and the quiet come back into my reality. Hidden beings show themselves. Subtle thoughts and secret feelings rise to the surface. I can see beyond the obvious. What lies beneath the loud rumbles and roars of today’s ubiquitous engines? What unmeasurable and unnamable things lie betwixt the numbers and labels of modern science? What colors do we miss when we call the snow white and the crow black? What lies between and outside the data? Will our attempts to simulate reality leave out the things we already do not see, and thereby amplify our current deficiencies and biases? I foresee a danger: that in building a transhumanist Metaverse we will construct not a paradise but a hell. We will incarcerate ourselves in a controlled and bounded finitude, deluding ourselves that, if we pile up enough of them, our bits and bytes, our zeroes and ones, will someday add up to infinity.

3. Chasing a Mirage

Transhumanism is anti-natural, in that it does not recognize an innate intelligence in nature, the body, or the cosmos, but seeks rather to impose human intelligence onto a world it believes has none. Everything can be improved through human design (and ultimately, human-created AI design). Yet, confusingly, many transhumanists deploy ecological arguments in their futuristic visions. We will reduce our numbers and absent ourselves from nature, leaving the planet to rewild itself as we retreat into bubble cities and the Metaverse, subsisting off robotified vertical farms, precision fermentation factories, animal cell culture meat, and artificial milk (“Mylk”).

Some conspiracy theorists point out that some prominent advocates of transhumanist technologies also advocate eugenics or population control policies. The connection is quite logical and needn’t imply monstrous evil. If robots and AI can replace human labor in more and more domains, then we need fewer and fewer humans. This, they believe, will have the added benefit of lessening the burden of humanity on the planet. The same engineering mindset that “improves” the body and brain translates naturally into optimizing society, the genome, and the earth.

That humanity is fundamentally a burden on the planet is an assumption partaking of the same exceptionalism that motivates the transcendent ambition to begin with. Perhaps if we conceived human destiny differently, we would not be such a burden. If our ambition were not to transcend matter and the flesh, but rather to participate in the endless unfolding of more and more life and beauty on earth, we would be like other species: integral parts of an evolving wholeness.

Transhumanism holds a different ideal. As we bring tighter and more precise control to the human realm, we separate off from the natural. Transhumanism is an expression of the much older idea of transcendentalism, which holds human destiny to lie in the transcendence of the material realm. The Metaverse is the modern version of Heaven, a spiritual domain. It is a realm of pure mind, of pure symbol, of complete freedom from natural limits. In the Metaverse, no fundamental limit pertains to how much virtual land you can own, how many virtual outfits your avatar can wear, or how much virtual money you can have. Whatever limits exist are artificial, imposed by the software engineers to make the game interesting—and profitable. Today there is quite a market for virtual real estate in the Metaverse, but its scarcity, and therefore its value, is completely artificial. Yet that artificial value is substantial. Bloomberg estimates that annual revenues from the Metaverse will be $800 billion by 2024. Already, according to Vogue magazine (paywall), the online game Fortnite sells over $3 billion in virtual cosmetics annually, ranking it among the worlds largest fashion companies.

I wonder what the parents of the world’s 200 million stunted and wasted children think about that.

That last comment points to the dirty secret beneath all of humanity’s transcendentalist striving. Always, it visits great harm upon those it renders invisible. When one enters the Metaverse, it seems like a reality unto itself. Its material substrate is nearly invisible; therefore, one easily believes that it has no impact on the material world outside its precincts. The more immersive it becomes, the more one might forget that anything exists outside it.

The same thing can happen any time we immerse ourselves in symbols and abstractions and forget their material substrate. So it is that economists, hypnotized by economic growth numbers, do not see the dislocation, misery, and ecological ruin that accompanies them. So it is that climate policymakers entranced by carbon math, do not see the devastation caused by lithium and cobalt mines. So it is that epidemiologists, obsessed with case fatality rates, seldom consider realities of hunger, loneliness, and depression that fall outside their metrics.

It has long been thus with any reality we create for ourselves—we forget what lies outside it. We even forget that anything lies outside it. So it was in the metropolises of the 20th century. Immersed in urban life, it was easy to forget anything else existed or was relevant, and easy to ignore the social and ecological harm entailed in maintaining them. The pattern repeats on every scale. Enter the world of the super-rich, and again it exerts the same logic. The cost to the material and social world that maintains it is hard to see from inside the mansions and yachts where everything looks so beautiful.

Let us indulge in some metaphysical logic. Well-being is impossible in separation, because being is fundamentally relational. Separating reality into two realms, both become sick—the human as well as the natural.

That is why I believe that the technological program, in its new extreme of transhumanism and the Metaverse, will forever chase a mirage. The mirage is Utopia, a perfect society in which suffering has been engineered out of existence and life gets more and more awesome every day. Just look at the technological program’s track record. We have made enormous strides in our ability to control matter and manage society. We can alter genes and brain chemistry—shouldn’t we have conquered depression by now? We can surveil nearly every human being at all times—shouldn’t we have eliminated crime by now? Economic productivity per capita has increased 20-fold in half a century—shouldn’t we have eliminated poverty by now? We have not. Arguably, we haven’t made any progress at all. The technocratic explanation is that we haven’t finished the job, that when our control is total, when the Internet of Things links every object into one data set, when every physiological marker is under real-time monitoring and control, when every transaction and movement is under surveillance, then there will be no more room in reality for anything we do not want. All will be under control. This would be the fulfillment of the program of domestication that began tens of thousands of years ago. The entire material world will have been domesticated. We will have finally arrived at the oasis on the desert horizon. We will have finally reached the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

What if we never reach it? What if misery and suffering are a feature not a bug of the program of separation? What if the mirage recedes just as fast as we race toward it?

That is how it looks to me. I cannot be sure the human condition has worsened since Dickensian times, or Medieval times, or even hunter-gatherer times. Some version of all our dramas and suffering seems to pervade every human society. However, I am quite sure that the human condition has not improved either. Our seeming progress toward transcending matter and the suffering of the flesh has not brought us any closer to its goal. At best, the suffering has only changed form, if indeed it has not grown worse. For example, thanks to air conditioning, we need no longer suffer extreme heat. Thanks to automobiles, we no longer need to tire ourselves to travel a few miles. Thanks to excavators, we no longer need to suffer aching muscles to dig a house foundation. Thanks to all kinds of pharmaceutical drugs, we no longer need to feel the pain of various medical conditions. Yet somehow we have not banished pain, fatigue, suffering, or stress, even in the most affluent parts of society. If you pay attention when you are in public places, you will become aware of enormous, pervasive suffering. Our heroic brothers and sisters bear it well. They hide it. They bear it. They do their best to be civil, to be kind, to be cheerful, to get by. But pay attention, and you will notice a lot of secret anguish. You will notice physical pain, emotional pain, anxiety, fatigue, and stress. Each person you see is divinity incarnate, doing its best under conditions that little serve its flourishing. Yet even so, the beauty is still there, the divinity seeking relentlessly to express itself, life seeking to live. On those occasions when I am blessed to see that, I know myself as a Friend.

4. Virtual Children of a Virtual World

Perhaps it is human destiny to forever chase the mirage of total control, the conquest of suffering, the conquest of death. And despite the futility of that chase, it could be that we suffer no more than we ever have, albeit no less either. It is not my purpose here to put a stop to the transhumanist agenda, repugnant though I find it. I write this essay for two, related, reasons. First is to illuminate the basic character of that agenda, its origins and ambitions, and especially its ultimate futility, so that we might choose it or not choose it with open eyes. Second is to describe an alternative that is viable whatever choice the bulk of humanity makes. Third is to pose a scenario of peaceful and amicable relations between the two worlds that diverge from this choice-point in the Garden of Forking Paths, looking toward the day eons in the future when all the sundered souls of humanity reunite.

All right, that was three reasons not two. The third one became visible only after I wrote down the first two. I could go back and change it and delete this entire paragraph, which is now getting comically self-referential. Doh! But sometimes I like to share the process of my thought.

It occurs to me that the colloquial use of the term “meta” to refer to self-referentiality is also an aspect of a dissociation from matter, which casts us into a realm of symbols. Cut off from the infinity-wellspring of the animate, material, qualitative world, we cannibalize the symbolic world that originally budded off from it. We make stories about stories about stories. We make movies about toys based on movies based on comic books. Symbols come to symbolize other symbols, devolving into endlessly involuted self-reference. Underneath its whimsical playfulness, its witty word-play, its countless levels of abstraction lurks a horrible truth: We don’t care. A creeping cynicism pervades post-modern society, a numbness that whipped-up enthusiasm for the hyped-up Metaverse can dispel only temporarily.

Read full story here…

Sourced from Technocracy News & Trends

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