Why so few?

A couple of days ago I happened to stumble upon a lecture by Nick Bostrom, the director of The Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University and probably the world’s foremost transhumanist. If you don’t know who he is, or haven’t heard of transhumanism before, I suppose it’s an interesting viewing – kind of TED stuff that so many people seem to really like (and sure enough, Bostrom has several lectures available there as well).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

In the lecture, Bostrom explains in about 20 minutes his well-known view of existential risk for humanity and outlines a “possibility space” for human species, along with his threefold model of future of human development (extinction/stagnation/posthuman). I have in fact all sorts of different problems with Bostrom’s approach, but now I suddenly realised that they don’t even matter. Bostrom argues that what defines us as human, compared against animals for instance, is our superior mental, cognitive or whatever other capabilities, and argues quite persuasively that there is no reason to believe that the limits we currently face in those terms should be considered as somehow final and unsurpassable. Therefore it follows that if we were to increase those capabilities (for instance, by increasing our brain volume) we would likely become able to think thoughts that are currently impossible, and indeed, unimaginable for us. And I don’t really even disagree with that.

Where I do disagree though (and, as I said earlier, this is quite apart from all kinds of different ethical objections) is that I honestly don’t believe that things such as brain volume or our current cognitive capacities (such as ability to hear only within certain frequency range or see within certain spectral range, and so on) could honestly be considered serious limitations for “most of the people, most of the time”. I would maintain that for vast, vast majority of us those limits are never came nowhere near of. Apart from very select few we all live our lives well below what we would actually be capable of, by virtue of being humans. And this sentiment is, for me, perfectly captured in this small episode in a wonderful movie “Waking Life”:


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