Michael Battalio

Friday, August 24, 2012

Serious conversations (part 40):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fortieth through forty-third entries deal with space, space travel, space exploration, and its merits.


        Firstly a comment on the space shuttle and science funding in general: Just to mention this, I’m very disappointed that the space shuttle is gone.  Or more precisely that we don’t have a replacement for the space shuttle.  I was hopeful that by the time the shuttle was decommissioned that there would be plans for the replacement, but we really have nothing.  Not only that, major projects at NASA are being threatened to be canceled (Jim Webb for example).  Unfortunately mostly of the undereducated middle class doesn’t understand that research and development is key to an advancing economy, and not only that it is also necessary for our survival as a civilization.  So we are left with outcries that the NSF, NASA, NOAA and a multitude of other government scientific organizations are overfunded even though they receive very little percentage-wise of the federal budget.  And it is up to them to advance science and produce new technologies.  Imagine what the economy would be like (and life in general) if no one had ever bothered to fund the research that led to the transistor.  I fear that that is what is happening, because of the foolish we are letting technological developments that should occur in our lifetime slip out of our grasp. That saddens me.

        Let us move on to a discussion of manned space flight. For the moment I shall state that unmanned exploration is of obvious benefit. I go both ways as far as manned exploration is concerned, but generally I feel that is also of vital importance. This is due to several things. Firstly, we achieve certain innovations in technology that we will have to have eventually, sooner by having manned spaceflight. Eventually we will have to leave this planet, either due to overpopulation or something cataclysmic happening to the ecosystem or something terrible happening to the sun, and we need to prepare for that. Probably sooner rather than later. So it behooves us to work out the glitches in human spaceflight now while there is very limited pressure on us as a species. Secondly, although we will get there some day, hopefully, machines cannot do everything a human being can. If we had people on Mars right now (which I’m certain we could have if we’d stuck to the rate at which we were exploring in the 1960s), we’d absolutely know the whereabouts of water and if we hadn’t found it already, be much closer to finding life on Mars. Thirdly, there is something to be said of science for the sake of science and discovery. I believe the more we know, the richer our existence becomes. Lastly, we should do it because it is inspiring and captivating. I suggest this clip from Neil deGrasse Tyson (who spoke at MSU last semester and was wonderful) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_F3pw5F_Pc I agree completely with that rant. Later on he talks about how poorly our congress represents us, not because of race or social status, but because of the fact that most of them are lawyers. There are no scientists, engineers, or regular people, so of course, they make stupid decisions. They are making decisions that have nothing to do with their professions.

        Next entry will feature comments from the other side.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Serious conversations (part 39):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The thirty-sixth through thirty-ninth entries deal with extending one’s life artificially.

Me:         Another thing to consider: what becomes of our interactions with other people? Do we each have our own machine we live in? Do we all exist as programs on one really large machine where our individual programs can talk and interact? What defines an interaction? Will there be levels of permission that are allowed? Will we have a choice in the matter? What about free will as a machine? Inevitably there will be evil people in the machine, think of what they will be able to do. What could they become? These are all answerless questions at the moment because this entire thought experiment is predicated on us actually getting the technology to move to machines at some point, so I don’t know if it is worthwhile to consider these questions.

        I suppose the question is to what extent is the stream of consciousness actually our selves. And will we be able to distinguish our voice from others. I would venture to say yes in the same way that I can tell the difference between when I am saying something and when someone else is speaking. I can recognize that the voice is coming externally, that it is entering my consciousness through one of my senses and not originating within me. I would interpret telepathy as another sense where my brain receives external input. Again, speculation though.

        It doesn’t matter what we define ourselves as; it only matters what our selves actually are. Nonreligious believe it is a purely physical issue. It doesn’t matter if people take issue with the brain being the center of self if the brain is actually the origin of self. Herein lies our biggest issue with this. No one actually knows what the self is. It seems to me that the brain is what most people believe it to be, and that assumption seems natural to me. I can feel myself thinking in my head. I don’t feel myself thinking with my arm or foot or digestive system. My body does (mostly) what my consciousness (that I feel to be in my brain) tells it to do.

Another interesting point from my friend: “If your actual brain itself was a computer, and you could copy and paste yourself and you could simply download a new ability, I don't think you could even call that human at all.  I'm not sure how you could be that and still maintain a sense of self, though, as I said before, you'd presumably have some central processor choosing what to download and when/how to copy.  But maybe remaining human isn't necessary.  You could willingly choose to become something else.”

And that’s the extent of serious conversations on bodily replacement. Hopefully this will be revisited in a few years. Our next entries deal with space exploration.

2003-2016 Michael Battalio (michael[at]battalio.com)