A couple of months ago I was sent a rather cryptic email suggesting that I check out the work of Aubrey de Grey, who (according to his Wikipedia page) is:
a controversial biomedical gerontologist who lives in the city of Cambridge, UK. He is working to expedite the development of a cure for human ageing, a medical goal he refers to as engineered negligible senescence. To this end, he has identified what he concludes are the seven areas of the aging process that need to be addressed medically before this can be done. He has been interviewed in recent years in many news sources, including CBS 60 Minutes, BBC, the New York Times, Fortune Magazine, and Popular Science. His main activities at present are as chairman and chief science officer of the Methuselah Foundation and editor-in-chief of the academic journal Rejuvenation Research.
So he's an interesting fellow, and his website (Sens.org ) has more in-depth information about his plans for curing aging. I also discovered that de Grey was the winner of the 2004 H.G. Wells Award for Outstanding Transhumanist of the Year, which, according to Transhumanism.org:
is conferred annually by the WTA Board of Directors on the person who has made the most outstanding contributions to the transhumanist cause in the previous year.
Given my great admiration for H.G. Wells I was suitably impressed.
In The Dark Side: Thoughts on the Futility of Life (1994), Alan Pratt demonstrates that existential nihilism, in one form or another, has been a part of the Western intellectual tradition from the beginning. The Skeptic Empedocles' observation that "the life of mortals is so mean a thing as to be virtually un-life," for instance, embodies the same kind of extreme pessimism associated with existential nihilism. In antiquity, such profound pessimism may have reached its apex with Hegesis. Because miseries vastly outnumber pleasures, happiness is impossible, the philosopher argues, and subsequently advocates suicide. Centuries later during the Renaissance, William Shakespeare eloquently summarized the existential nihilist's perspective when, in this famous passage near the end of Macbeth, he has Macbeth pour out his disgust for life:Out, out, brief candle!Life's but a walking shadow, a poor playerThat struts and frets his hour upon the stageAnd then is heard no more; it is a taleTold by an idiot, full of sound and fury,Signifying nothing.
I couldn't really hope to say it better, could I? I next happened upon a site which I had quite a hard time understanding, that asks the question, 'Why does anything exist?' The site (Hedweb.com) is home to UK philosopher David Pearce, who has this to say:
The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how genetic engineering and nanotechnology will abolish suffering in all sentient life.The abolitionist project is hugely ambitious but technically feasible. It is also instrumentally rational and morally urgent. The metabolic pathways of pain and malaise evolved because they served the fitness of our genes in the ancestral environment. They will be replaced by a different sort of neural architecture - a motivational system based on heritable gradients of bliss. States of sublime well-being are destined to become the genetically pre-programmed norm of mental health.It is predicted that the world's last unpleasant experience will be a precisely dateable event.
Two hundred years ago, powerful synthetic pain-killers and surgical anesthetics were unknown. The notion that physical pain could be banished from most people's lives would have seemed absurd. Today most of us in the developed world take its routine absence for granted. The prospect that what we describe as psychological pain, too, could be banished is equally counter-intuitive. The feasibility of its abolition turns its deliberate retention into an issue of social policy and ethical choice.
Recently I posted this paragraph:
eventually a species that solves all of its problems will succumb to an eternal tedium: if death, illness, poverty, need and pain are eventually abolished, won't existence merely progress until everyone just sits around pressing the button to stimulate the electrodes in their brains (because they've heard all the stories, and it's still more fun than anything else)?
And this is what Pearce appears to hope for. A future where everyone is doped up to their eyeballs on happiness pills. Do we commit suicide as the nihilists often seem to conclude, or do we put our efforts into the transhumanist endeavour (and work to eliminate pain, suffering, illness and death) only to end up with a species of happiness junkies? Did humanity really do all it did, so its descendants could be permanently stoned?
Finally, as if to give this story an ending of sorts, according to Wikipedia, David Pearce also set up the World Transhumanist Association (the organisation that gives out the H.G. Wells award, that was given to Aubrey de Grey). And another day goes by, where I appreciate the absurdity of existence, just that little bit more...Go Top