This is a sketch of what might become a chapter in a so far unwritten book. It lacks some details and certain parts need to be elaborated further. It also needs historical references and a further explanation of what “ex nihilo” leads to philosophically. Also, I might include something about Darwinism that will make most people go completely bonkers. Hopefully the reader will apologize for the incomplete state which this is presented in, it was written from beginning to end during a late evening session. The final edition, if any such ever appears, will likely be three times as long, peppered with footnotes and edited about a gazillion times. Still, the general idea is hopefully obvious even in this rather mediocre presentation.
The wikipedia entry of transhumanism might be a helpful introduction, found here.
The most prevasive fallacy in modern times is that of ex nihilo – the creation of something out of nothing. It has lead to innumerable conclusions of how the world is constituted, ranging from the astro-physical “Big Bang” to political theories completely void of connection with mankinds biological, psychological and spiritual nature. It was present in utopian marxism, and is likewise present in high-tech transhumanism. It is the idea of unlimited transcendance – where the boundaries of the Universe stop existing and mankind is free to re-constitute nature according to his own wishes. It is man, wanting to be God, over and over again.
Let us begin with what we know, and move towards what we cannot know. We know that cause and effect exists – it is the framework through which we interpret all sensory input. Trying to deny it leads to complete chaos. Seeing the world through the lense of cause-and-effect enables us to draw conclusions, and see reality and history as a long series of state-changes of the Universe. This is, without a doubt, the only way we CAN see the Universe, since we are in it and constantly moving through Time. We cannot recreate the moment before present, nor can we visit the future before it actually occurs. We are thus limited to re-constructing the past, and predicting the future by applying patterns taught to us by logic and empirical observation.
The problem of the creation of the world, or the creation of the Universe, has existed as long as mankind has had the capacity to consider it. Due to the lack of observations, it took a mythological character during most of our past – we created stories from what we knew, namely human life, and projected these into the skies to make sense of why and how we came to exist. As we learned physics, we have created detailed equations and mathematical systems to describe how certain attributes of our existence – heat, mass, density etc. – have changed during billions of years to lead to where we are now. By attempting to roll this equation backwards, scientists came up with the Big Bang, and then ran straight into the proverbial wall. Currently, the arguments are based around what happend at the nth microsecond after “Big Bang”. We have long ago passed the point where we had to dissolve all the rules that lead us to come up with “Big Bang”. At the beginning of the Universe, according to current theories, matter was packed up far denser than it can actually be packed up. As far as I know, this also goes for black holes, which are a physical paradox that exists merely because our observations demand that they do.
The problem is still there – even if they mapped every single particle at the beginning of the Universe, we would be faced with the question “…and before that”? The problem is that people are trying to know things that cannot be known. The “Big Bang” is simply saying that at one point, there was nothing (represented by everything being condensed to a space so small it doesn’t exist) and suddenly there was something. Without God, or any force we deem able to create “ex nihilo”, this cannot happen. There is no explanation we can make of how the Universe came to be within the rules of this Universe. And this will be my main argument in this essay – that if we wan’t to believe in “ex nihilo” creation, we might as well call it God (which humanity always have) and accept that it is beyond our ability to understand how it happens.
Moving to the world of politics, the “ex nihilo”-fallacy has long been alive and well. People who have no understanding of economics think that they can simply conjure up “policy” that will create things that were not there before. Wealth, happiness and even correct opinions will appear simply because politicians and policy-makers pronounce it. Progressive attempts to create a “better society” and sometimes even “a better mankind” are doomed to fail unless one specifies exactly where this change will come from, and what mechanisms will make it happen. This rarely bothers democratic politicians, who think that a sufficient amount of public funds, slogans and bureucratic machinery will simply make anything happen.
The first communists believed that if communism was just implemented, manna would rain from the skies and a new, better man would appear. This was eventually seen as such an embarrasment that communism would have died if Marx hadn’t resurrected it as “scientific communism” with his exploitation theory. The first communist may have been forgiven for what was basically a post-millenialist viewpoint, where the second coming of Christ would occur if only everyone implemented communism, but Marx’s scientific communism did in no way get around the “ex nihilo” problem. The difference was that Marx didn’t think that God had anything to do with it. The theoretical flaw in Marxian communism is that even if we were to believe that the whole concept of the revolution of the proletariat was somehow workable (and morally justifiable), Marx never did, or could, specify how the dictatorship of the proletariat would eventually dissolve itself and eternal peace would ensue. Thus, his “scientific socialism” wasn’t very scientific at all, rather a fairly thin theology which was promoted by an economic theory (refuted almost immediately) posing as science. Ex nihilo at work.
We could argue along the same lines for the whole concept of modern democracy, going back all the way to the French revolution, but that is beyond the scope of this essay. I want to focus instead on the latest, and perhaps most ambitious attempt to create an “ex nihilo” theology, which aims to avoid any inclusion of God, and instead continue the tradition of trying to explain how nature can actually make something be created out of nothing, and how we can bring about the conditions for it. I am talking about trans-humanism. Before that, however, since I intend to prove why trans-humanism suffers from the exact same problem as any other utopian scheme, and that barring the intervention of God it cannot be, I need to make a short excursion into logic.
Imagine creating a complete map of the entire Universe, that was so detailed it described every aspect of everything. Such a map cannot ever be created, for the simple reason that it’s creation would require at least the same amount of matter as exists in the universe. You would need two Universes, where the one was an exact copy (or at least a logical representation of) the other Universe. Since the map is included in the concept of “everything”, however, this cannot be done. We can of course make approximate maps of the Universe, since we leave out most of the details. A map of the world then becomes a simplified, and knowingly incomplete view of the Universe. We can formulate this in terms of information as well – any representation of the Universe must contain at least the same amount of information as the Universe itself. We cannot “compress” the Universe into a map that is smaller than the Universe without losing information.
In exactly the same way, we cannot have full knowledge of something as complex as our brain. We can know a lot about our brain – what it is made of, how different parts connect, approximately how electricity travels – but we cannot have complete knowledge of it. To understand something that has the complexity of our brain, we need something more complex than our brain. Why do I say “more complex” and not just “at least as complex”? It has to do with the problem of “overhead”. Unless you are going to represent something in the exact same form that it appears, there needs to be a mechanism for translating it (meaning the mechanism of translating the biochemistry of our brain into “thoughts”), and this adds another layer of complexity. Thus, to fully understand how our brain works, we need something larger than our brain.
This might all seem like nonsense, but the main argument of the transhumanists is that we will one day create a machine that is smarter than us, meaning we will create something more complex than our brain. I contend that we cannot do that, simply because we cannot understand something that complex. The transhumanists often make the mistake of confusing complexity with speed of processing. A modern computer isn’t anywhere close to as “intelligent” as a human being, and making it a billion times faster will not help. The problem is not in how many instructions a micro-processor can process per second, since computers beat us at math almost from the outset. The problem is that we cannot create a set of instructions for a computer that is complex enough to allow it to “learn” (meaning process data in this context) to an extent that we cannot. The “intelligence” of computers is still just a derived product from our own intelligence. We can make computers imitate human behaviour, but the patterns they use cannot be more complex than any pattern we can think of.
That is not to say that the classical apocalyptic scenario cannot be created. It is fully possible to create a set of machines that would control air-craft and fly around the world, mindlessly killing people according to some pre-programmed instruction set of what was “right” and “wrong”. We could automate military equipment and end up having to find ways to “fight it” since the programs didn’t behave the way we expected. But this is not the topic we are discussing, what we are discussing is rather if we can make computers that are more “intelligent” than us, who will then make further computers that are even more intelligent, until we reach the eschatological singularity. And my conclusion is that due to the problem of complexity, we cannot do this without falling into the “ex nihilo” fallacy once again. Unless aided by God in creating these machines, we cannot make them smarter, or even as smart as ourselves. They will continue to be a derived product of our intellect, perhaps billions of times faster when it comes to processing times, but ultimately unable to create anything but at best derived copies of themselves that are even less “intelligent”.
There will be no exponential development of the “intelligence” of machines, and thus there will be no singularity, and no technological eschaton. God, and only God can create ex nihilo, and we should be thankful for it. It gives us the opportunity both to be thankful for the remarkable gift we have been given in the form of life and the opportunity to experience this world, and also to focus not on trying to escape these earthly bonds but rather to live as good and well as we can during the limited time we are here. While others desperately seek salvation through technologicy, I will try to find mine through living my life humbly, and seeking truth by the words of God, Our Creator.