Home / An open letter to Bryan Johnson: philosophy - not technology - is the core operating system to improve if you want to change the world  
Image of An open letter to Bryan Johnson: philosophy - not technology - is the core operating system to improve if you want to change the world

Bryan Johnson is an entrepreneur extraordinaire. To put it mildly, he's brilliant and an inspiration in so many ways. I recently read his Rewrite the OS, Change the World: A challenge worthy of the greatest hearts and minds of our generation, with its purpose:

Bryan Johnson, founder of the OS Fund and Braintree, an online and mobile payments provider which he sold to eBay in 2013 for $800 million in cash

Today I am announcing the OS Fund - $100 million of my personal capital dedicated to investing in inventors and scientists who aim to benefit humanity through quantum leap discoveries at the operating system, or OS, level.

He goes on:

In order to affect real change for humanity at a global scale, we need to think and operate on a fundamental level: the operating system.

Indeed. As a technologist, I think that's a terrific way of looking at the problems humanity faces. However, I'd like to suggest to Bryan (may I call you Bryan?) a slightly different, and more fundamental, view - an operating system not focused on technology but, instead, humanity. What is the operating system of humanity?


Bryan, I applaud your efforts and agree with so much you wrote. For example:

In the same way that computers have operating systems at their core — dictating the way a computer works and serving as a foundation upon which all applications are built — everything in life has an operating system (OS). It is at the OS level that we most frequently experience a quantum leap in progress.

Agreed. Everything in life - including a person - has an operating system. At the core, physical operating level of humans, we have the brain, responsible for all life enabling and sustaining functions. What is at the core of a person's brain? What drives the non-autonomous decisions it makes?


Sure, what a person experiences and learns, their abilities and resources, the environment and technologies within it, etc. all contribute to the decision-making process in relation to their desires. But it is a person's chosen philosophy - the fundamental view of reality and a person's relation to it - that integrates and drives how all those components are used and applied. As your venture is around the operating system, let's talk in programming terms.

Consider how your basic programming function works: you have a defined function that takes in arguments and, based on some underlying logic within the function, comes back with a result. Let's look at the pseudo-code of an example (modeled using PHP):

function helpAnother($experiences = false, $environment = "hard", $abilities = false, $resources = false, $philosophy = false)
    if we lack:
      a core philosophy OR
      abilities and resources OR
    we can't help
  if (!$philosophy || (!$abilities && !$resources) || !$experiences) { return "no"; }

  $possible_actions = array();

  foreach ($abilities as $ability)
    foreach ($resources as $resource)
      // check if we can use a resource consistent with our core philosophy
      $consistent_with_philosophy = $this->validateConsistency($resource, $philosophy);

      // check if we have experience using a resource
      $can_use_resource = $this->testExperienceUsing($resource, $ability, $experiences);

        if using a resource is consistent with our
        core philosophy AND we have experience
        using that resource, we can possibly use
        it to help someone; otherwise, if using the
        resource is at least consistent with our
        core philosophy (but we don't have
        experience using it), we can try it
      if ($consistent_with_philosophy && $can_use_resource)
      { $possible_actions[] = array("use_resource" => $resource); }
      elseif ($consistent_with_philosophy)
      { $possible_actions[] = array("try_resource" => $resource); }

  if (empty($possible_actions)) { return "no"; }

  $action_most_likely_to_help = array();
  $last_probability = 0;

    given an array of all possible actions we can
    use to help someone, determine which has
    the highest probability of helping that person
    (taking into account our experience
    level, environment, abilities, resources,
    and philosophy)
  foreach ($possible_actions as $attempt)
    $probability = $this->calculateProbability($attempt, $experiences, $environment, $abilities, $resources, $philosophy);

    if ($probability > $last_probability)
       $action_most_likely_to_help = array("best_action" => $attempt, "probability" => $probability);
       $last_probability = $probability;

  if (empty($action_most_likely_to_help) { return "no"; }

  return $action_most_likely_to_help;

Imagine what would happen if philosophy weren't one of the arguments passed to our function:

$take_action = $this->helpAnother(array(...), "hard", array(...), array(...));

The code is clear: the result is "no." Even scarier, imagine if an immoral philosophy is sent as one of the arguments. I hate to bring up Godwin's law, but can you imagine if we passed Hitler's philosophy as one of our function's arguments?

$take_action = $this->helpAnother(array(...), "hard", array(...), array(...), "Hitler's philosophy");

What would happen? Well, of course, we already know. Saying the code would bomb is a literal truth. You don't need a degree in computer science to understand what happens if you identify the defect in your code too late. Thus, I think what you wrote needs some clarification: we don't "have the power to build the kind of world we could previously only dream of" without philosophy (or with a "false"/immoral philosophy). Building a world without philosophy or with a poor philosophy leads to nightmares. Only with a "true"/moral philosophy can we build a world worthy of our dreams.

I agree with you: we do have "new tools such as 3D printing, genomics, machine intelligence, software, synthetic biology and others," and we have the ability now to "make in days, weeks or months things that previous innovators couldn't possibly create in a lifetime." But if we have a "false" philosophy, that only means we're much more likely to build things quicker that are bad for mankind. Do you even care to imagine the additional horrors Hitler could have wrought with today's technologies?

And yet, there are still so many problems that we haven't begun to solve, so many rich opportunities that lie in wait. The stakes have never been higher.

I really enjoy agreeing with you on these kinds of statements. But if you'll pardon the slightly dramatic downplay of effort required, don't you think technology is the easy part? It's one of the key abilities that makes humans so great - we are constantly improving our technologies to better our station in life. Maybe that's why we put more emphasis on technology rather than philosophy. It's so much easier to improve. Although I'm not sure why, people find philosophy really hard and, in my experience, seek to evade or avoid it.

In the race toward profits, easy money and incremental gains, we have lost sight of what really matters to the future of mankind. It is time for a fresh reckoning of our unique time in history, the tools at our disposal and the real opportunity at hand.

Science and technology can help us tackle many of our most pressing challenges and opportunities, but the most ambitious inventors have few sources of capital or support to help them realize their vision. Many traditional venture capital firms and government organizations resist investing in high risk, long-term plays that promise a quantum leap in progress.

It saddens me to do so, as you know how much I like agreeing with you Bryan. But here, we'll have to agree to disagree. Not knowing you personally, I don't know why you consider profits negative (at least, that's the impression I get), but I generally understand why some people consider money as the root of all evil. Profit is one of the essentials for all improvement in humanity, and you don't need much more than a mere comic book for kids (HTML version) to explain the economic basics and reasons. In fact, did you know that, in "the most fundamental sense we are all, with each of our actions, always and invariably profit-seeking entrepreneurs?"

Additionally, you're not forgetting where the "$100 million of my personal capital" you're donating to this worthwhile project came from, are you? Did the Federal Reserve just print it for you like they do when the government needs free money? Of course not. You earned that capital because you made a profit.

As you believe governments resist investing in high-risk, long-term plays, let me disagree by asking you a question. Which strategy do you think is the higher risk, long-term play:

  1. Coercively taking taxpayer money to invest in war (and all the technologies and infrastructures that go with it) in regions like the Middle East in order to force "American democracy" (which, I'll assume you define as an environment where everyone is treated equally and has equal rights, though even a cursory look at American democracy would prove it encompasses anything but), or;
  2. Leaving people alone and letting them decide for themselves what to do with their money (sometimes referred to as a free market)?

This isn't a trick question; it's sincere. Not since the American Revolution has this high-risk, long-term war strategy worked. (Some would argue that, even then, it didn't work.) And the government has been at it for many decades. Besides, we all know you personally chose the second high-risk, long-term strategy. How'd that work out for you?

So I don't believe your claim about government resistance to progress is accurate. The real problem is the philosophy used to define "progress." For those who set policy in government, progress is about wider user of force, getting away with bigger lies, the ends justifying the means, and totalitarianism like Orwell's 1984. Their philosophy is to use force to get what they want. For voters who support those policymakers, their philosophy is the same.

Quantum Leaps

At the OS fund, we want to support those who see what others cannot, who chart their own course toward the future and who have the courage and determination to pursue their vision.

We want to help them turn their most audacious ideas into real, sustainable businesses that scale by providing capital, support, advice and an interdisciplinary network of like-minded people who are there to help each other.

If you are working on a quantum-leap discovery that promises to rewrite the operating systems of life, we hope to hear from you.

man entering door that says career in politics while passing garbage to throw away ethics

Effectively, there are five disciplines or branches in philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and politics. As far as politics go (i.e., the proper/moral use of force), I think we should question the morality of spreading democracy (recommended by Harvard University!), imperialism, and colonialism as proper. As far as ethics go, I think we should question why so few moral people are elected to political office. As you said, for such "important endeavors," I agree we need "the leadership of bold thinkers" searching for answers to these incredibly hard questions. Minimizing those who promote such false and harmful philosophies could "affect real change for humanity at a global scale," just like you desire. But I get it: while I try to teach philosophy to my fourteen-year old daughter, the rocket scientists in your invested companies probably have it easier.

Although I doubt it Bryan, it's possible I see something that you do not. One of my discoveries is this: too many believe that force should be used to take what they want, and if we could change that idea, we could change the world by a quantum leap. I'm not sure if they've lost an appreciation for exchanging values as a means to getting what they want or if they never had such an appreciation. I think a contributing factor is most people ignore (or never learned) philosophy. I'm not a scientist nor engineer nor mathematician, so I don't expect your fund would invest in the vision I'm pursuing. Granted, I understand my vision of a world where people don't force each other and, instead, exchange values, will be harder to achieve than cold fusion technology. But, to use your words and if we're talking quantum leaps, I don't believe there's anything more promising to enabling life than rewriting "the operating system of life" - philosophy.

Bryan, you're devoting your life to "building a better world." I envy you. Like is said in your video, "some people are OK with the way things are." You are clearly not. Neither am I. To me, and as your video also notes, "it's not a job, it's a calling." I don't expect I'll alter the course of humanity like you, but I won't live with the regret that I didn't try "to improve the lives of millions of people for generations to come."

Your areas of interest and involvement include aerospace and physics, health and life sciences, infrastructure, and machine intelligence. All are very exciting technology areas, but did you notice that none are related to the most important function of the human operating system? I wish you well and, of course, I don't hold it against you for wanting to take the easier path. Achieving revolutions in technology is so much easier than in philosophy. Besides, it is your hard-earned money. You should be able to do what you want with it, and I should never be allowed to force you otherwise.

Wouldn't you agree?

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A very valid point of view, and one I agree is taking the back-burner based on the books and articles I've read around transhumanism and other technical innovations. I've commented elsewhere in this forum that the implications of vastly improved ("quantum leap?") technology also come with a fear-factor. Call me anal retentive, but I don't like the feeling of not being in control of technology (or politicians). The more I read about AI, the more excited I get. Lose control over that technology and, as you said elsewhere, we might end up with Aldous Huxley's imaginary drug soma from Brave New World. We also might get the machines from The Matrix or The Terminator, or V.I.K.I. from I, Robot. Then what? Where's Will Smith when you need him?

It does make one wonder: why don't people in the venture capital and STEM disciplines spend more time considering philosophy when dreaming of a world that might be? Anyone?

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Interesting thoughts, c_prompt. I'd enjoy knowing more about your thoughts on how to pursue a philosophical revolution -- lincoln@metacannon.net.

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Thanks Arosophos for the words of encouragement.

I'm not sure I'm grandiose enough a thinker to know how best to ignite a "philosophical revolution." (It sounds great though.) I would love to see venture capitalists investing the kinds of money that Johnson, et al. are investing in technology to help move in that direction. (One of these years I'm going to write an article on Ray Kurzweil's amazing book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology because I have huge concerns about his lack of philosophical considerations for technical advancements.) I sure wish I had that kind of money to invest in philosophy, because I would. As such, all I can do is follow Gandhi's advice (or whomever said it): be the change I wish to see in the world. How does that manifest itself? A few examples:

  • I rarely do small-talk (and only for a very limited amount of time if "necessary" - as to when it's necessary, uhm...) and don't waste my time reading or watching nonsense. I think people spend far too much time talking about, writing about, and watching the unimportant, trite, and inconsequential. I refuse to contribute.
  • I invest my time and money in efforts I think will make a difference based on my philosophical principles, however small.
  • I engage others to consider the philosophical implications of ideas, but to take those implications all the way through if applied to everyone. I think Henry Hazlitt was dead-on in his book Economics in One Lesson [.pdf], but I think his economic principle applies to philosophy as a whole:
    From this aspect, therefore, the whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.
  • Most all the articles I write include philosophy, such as my advice to my graduating daughter, how I choose friends, which investments I don't consider valuable, what's important to me in romantic relationships, which scientific disciplines I find inspiring, why I question the enormous investments in gaming, etc. I do this because I want to have these conversations with others and because I think others need to be having more of these discussions. I would really like to see authors/writers/bloggers writing about philosophy as a component of their articles and books.
  • I've read (and continue to read) many philosophy books. I take the ideas I think valid and integrate them into my core. I share them with others. (Sometimes, I even buy others philosophy books.)
  • I openly attack ideas I think are destructive.

I think that, before we will see a philosophical revolution, people have to value philosophy. Before they can value philosophy, they have to understand the concept of valuing. What does it mean to value? Why are values important? What are my values? Why are they my values? Should they be my values? What do others value? Why do they value those? If people will start asking those kinds of questions, philosophy will become more integrated into everything they do (e.g., what they choose to work at, what they teach their children, what they buy and invest in, who they foster relationships with, what brings them happiness). You can teach in school what various philosophers thought, but that doesn't really teach philosophy per se. Answering questions for yourself and understanding the drivers and fundamentals of your answers help you learn philosophy. In other words, helping people learn how to think critically would likely help start the revolution. But we need to start asking the questions.

What would you suggest we do?

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(One of these years I'm going to write an article on Ray Kurzweil's amazing book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology because I have huge concerns about his lack of philosophical considerations for technical advancements.)


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I have all my notes and a few ideas about what I want to cover, but I'm just not feeling motivated enough to write it. Sometimes I get writer's block and can't think of ideas. With this, I have the idea, but not the motivation. It goes without saying he's brilliant and has an amazing talent to envision what's possible. Yet this isn't going to be a positive view because he is so obviously short-sighted about philosophy and the dangerous people his philosophy is enabling. That makes him as dangerous as he is gifted. I like writing stories I'll feel good about. I'm not there yet with this one and I'm not yet sure what it will take for me to get there.

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Thanks, c_prompt. I share your interest in promoting a philosophical approach to the risks and opportunities suggested by Singularitarianism and Transhumanism. My inclination is toward postsecular religion as the most likely mechanism for achieving a revolution along those lines, as religion has long demonstrated itself to be the most powerful way to shape popular philosophy. Some believe religion is dying. I think they see presecular religion dying, while religion more broadly considered continues to evolve along with us. Maybe I'm wrong, but if I am then I'm not sure that I have any better suggestions. Along these lines, and in relation to Ray Kurzweil, you might find this interesting: http://lincoln.metacannon.net/2014/09/ray-kurzweil-is-evidence-for.html

You mention that you're not a scientist or engineer. Are you a writer? An academic? How do you currently pay the bills, and how might you integrate the necessity of paying the bills into your aspiration to promote a philosophical revolution?

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I have an admission to make: I had to look up postsecular because I didn't understand what could possibly be meant by a time after the rejection of religion. First there was religion. Then it was rejected. Then it was pursued again? Why would anyone take such a direction?

Religion is a primitive form of philosophy but shouldn't play any part in the move toward the singularity and transhumanism. IMO, religion does not positively shape philosophy - it transfigures it into the unreal, the unknowable, and the contradictory. Contrary to popular belief, it encourages people to do wrong. "Don't worry or think about it - God has a plan; you just don't understand it." "God doesn't like [x] behavior. Therefore, we should go to war against those who behave against God's direction." "Don't worry about protecting yourself. God will protect and care for you." More atrocities have been committed in the name of religion than anything else. We move toward the singularity and transhumanism through knowledge. Religion is the opposite of knowledge. It is blindly believing in entities and events with the only support coming from an ancient era that believed in storytelling over facts.

I can't say I know whether or not religion is dying, but I do know that too many continue to believe in the false and contradictory because they either refuse to question what they are told or they willingly ignore the truth. I also know that too many rely on government to protect them. Religion teaches people to act like that. Either provides a drag on all the progress to and benefits that come with the singularity and transhumanism.

Religion cannot evolve, except as a fictional story evolves - imagination without reality. Even if, by postsecularism, you're exclusively referring to the cultural and historical aspects of people's beliefs carrying on but distinct from abandoned beliefs in the unknowable, I (generally) still don't see the value. Much of religious traditions and culture are based on nonsensical and mystical stories accepted without proof. I don't think it morally proper to follow a tradition or culture based on primitive, unsupported, blind myths. A moral philosophy has to be based on reality; otherwise, humanity cannot survive. Religion isn't.

This isn't to say I don't agree with any religious teachings. For example, and for the most part, I follow the "golden rule" (though I don't follow it with anyone who uses force against me). I think Gandi was onto something when he said (or, again, whomever said it): I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. I'm with Thomas Jefferson on his application of the Bible - remove the myths and nonsense and focus on the lessons which you can deduce by reason (e.g., "blessed are the peacemakers").

Revising Voltaire's statement that "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him," Mikhail Bakunin once wrote that "if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him." I agree with Bakunin's statement but not based on his reasoning. Religion is based on pure faith. If science one day proved God existed, religion would end. Religion cannot exist in the same realm where proof exists.

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I appreciate you posting these links and I'll try to adequately address what I consider key points from each of your referenced articles.

From Dynamic Faith in Pancritical Rationalism:

When I use "faith", I don't mean blind trust. I mean only trust, with no more blindness than necessary at a given time and place. I also don't mean dogma or any unquestioning or unexamining attitude. Rather, I mean that no matter how many questions we ask, and no matter how much we examine and press the frontiers of our knowledge, there are more questions to ask, and there are more matters to examine, and that may always be the case. So, whether we like it or not, we find ourselves in a context that requires faith in practice. Life and death hang in the balance, and we cannot wait for absolute answers (even if they exist) before we act.

The (many) discussions I've had on religion with people who believe in God usually include my contention that they believe in God without proof. The retort from those who have actually given "proof" some thought (and most people I speak with have not, but let's put that aside) usually tell me that they have either had experiences that prove to them God exists or they claim that humanity is proof that God exists. Either explanation is far short on causality, especially relative to alternatives. As to the first explanation, there's a great book by Oliver Sacks called The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales (one of my favorite chapters is The President's Speech). Sacks is a neurologist and has ample examples in that book - scientifically explained - as to why people can have God-like experiences. (I'm also told that if you ingest shrooms, you can also have the experiences. I guess that could be an argument for God - "God is in the shrooms!") As to the second explanation, I'm sure I needn't direct you to Charles Darwin and biological evolution.

You might argue that I have "faith" in the scientific explanations, while you have faith in the religious explanations. Mistakes are often made in science. Science also has seen quite a bit of fraud (especially when politics are involved). But I think Carl Sagan said it well: "In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion."

Religious faith is based on stories told by those who had relatively little knowledge and didn't follow scientific principles. As such, that faith relies on stories that we know are absolutely not true (e.g., the Earth is not 6,000 years old, the Earth was not created in six days). And I won't even get into the arguments that demonstrate religion is historically anti-science (such as the Catholic Church persecuting Galileo). In fact, amazingly, the Catholic Church invests a great deal of money funding science. For example, this is a great video of George Coyne, the former director of the Vatican Observatory (amazing that the Church has an observatory, huh?). But even though we know these stories are not true, they are still taught. Why? Faith in religious explanations - blind, dogmatic, unquestioned, unexamined, or otherwise.

Even when we have the luxury of time, we cannot make progress without at least tentatively agreeing on basic premises. Science typically posits causality and uniformity as basic premises. Some will argue that these are proven by science, but that's not true, as the empiricist philosophers, Hume and Berkeley, taught us. No matter how many times we think we've experienced something, no matter how many places we think we've experienced it, it could change at another time or place.

I'll concede that I can't prove with certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow if you'll concede that, if it does rise, it's not because Helios is pulling it via his chariot. It's important to admit that we understand the Greek story is a myth. It's important to understand that we don't have any proof of the story. It's important to understand that the logic of the story isn't sound or based on anything we know to be true in reality. Everyone I know who is religious will concede the Greek story is a myth; yet they will not apply the same rigor to their religious beliefs. Why?

From Post-Secularism and the Resurrecting God:

God always has been and is at least a posthuman projection, an extension and negation of human desire, imagined and expressed within the constraints of human thought, language and action.

Pray for the starving children while I hold this gold cross

Agreed, which is to say that God is a human creation - not the other way around.

Likewise, if religion is merely genuflection to the supernatural, it very well may be dying, but again that overlooks function.

Bakunin thought religion was a "safety-valve." I agree that is one of its functions. I think another is control/power over others. I think another is money, which makes me think of this meme.

Of course, none of this means science or ethics are or should be displaced by religion. To the contrary, science should continue to work out reconciliation between our contending accounts of experience, as ethics should our contending moral claims. Each should expand its reach to the uttermost, informing our esthetic sensibilities.

Agreed. But does religion do this? No. If religion wants to use its historical books as artifacts that describe what people believed, that's an appropriate use and application of knowledge. Learning about history is very useful, if only to help us not repeat mistakes. But when we can demonstrate that the Earth is more like 4.54 billion years old in a universe 13.7 billions years old, religious leaders need to stop teaching nonsense and reconcile with science. But they can't - and won't - do that because, if they did, it might cause people to question what else isn't true. That is the slippery slope religion must avoid; otherwise, the jig is up.

From What Is the Value of Religion?:

If, on the other hand, religion is any practice that provokes a communal strenuous mood, as I define it consequent to observing and considering others' observations of its actual function, there's a lot more to be said about the value of religion. While we can engage in practices that provoke us to a communal strenuous mood toward escapism and nihilism, we can also engage in practices that provoke us to a communal strenuous mood toward life in all its presence, embodiment, relations, and ecology. As religion can provoke us to terrible atrocities, so it can provoke us to wonderful charities. Religion, from this perspective, is a tool, a social tool, and the most powerful of social tools. And like all tools, it can be used for good or evil, and surely has been.

Once upon a time, there was debate about teaching evolution. Religious people wanted to teach divine creation alongside science. A movement started to effectively rebrand religion with a scientific-sounding veneer: intelligent design. The rebranding effort didn't work. This paragraph above seems like a similar attempt to rebrand religion. Sure, if words haven't any meaning and we can define them however we want, then religion can be as you say. The Merriam-Webster dictionary uses a different definition than yours: "the belief in a god or in a group of gods" and "an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods." As an aside, war can also be considered a "practice that provokes a communal strenuous mood" that can sometimes "provoke us to wonderful charities," but that doesn't mean it has value.

From Transhumanism Is Not Atheism and Is Often Misrecognized Religion:

Religion certainly has been and is used for evil, perhaps even the greatest evils in human history. Focusing on those, however, in an account of religion is like focusing on nuclear weapons in an account of technology. Simply because really terrible things have been and are done with technology doesn't mean that technology is inherently and exhaustively evil. To the contrary, much good has also been done with technology, and an account of technology is not complete without acknowledging that.

Agreed, which is one of the key points of my open letter to Bryan Johnson. We must do a significantly better job improving the philosophical fundamentals to create and use technology. There may be a few things we can even pull from religion to help in that regard (e.g., the Golden Rule).

My opinion on religion is the same: there are limits, but there's nonetheless value in carefully immersing children in religion so they can understand how to use its power effectively as they mature. Of course there are risks, as there are risks in choosing not to train our children in religion. If we're not careful with religion, we can turn our children into superstitious zombies. If we avoid religion altogether, we relinquish its organizing and inspiring power to those who will use it for evil.

IMO, the Golden Rule is one example of a powerful idea in religion. And if you want to teach that, I'll support you. But to teach it properly, you must teach it with consistency. An idea that isn't internally consistent isn't valid. So when you teach children that it should be one criteria to judge the actions of others, it should be applied consistently to ALL OTHERS, including (and especially) the policies of governments. But that clearly isn't going to work because, if you teach kids not to take something from someone else that doesn't belong to them (as the Golden Rule suggests), you can't also teach them it's acceptable for the government to take their hard-earned money and give it to someone else. So much for teaching do unto others...

Having said that, I will not support you if, on the one hand, you teach the Golden Rule and, on the other, you teach creationism. Then you'd be teaching a child how to think both rationally and irrationally. You'll fill them with contradictions and they'll become confused. That's one of Hazlitt's lessons - be consistent. But religious leaders would never just teach the non-mystical lessons because that would be the end of religion.

What are the risks of "choosing not to train our children in religion?" Well, there certainly would be an increase in unemployment. Hallmark Cards would also report steep financial losses from lost sales. Though, on the bright side, there'd be an immense amount of land available from knocking down old buildings. I'm sure we could find good use for the space. And think of all the time that would become available for people to start learning philosophy!

And here's my second observation, more controversial but nonetheless true: for many Transhumanists, Transhumanism is functioning as a religion. No. I'm not saying that Transhumanism is inherently a religion. In itself, the advocacy of ethical use of technology to extend human abilities need not be religious. However, it nonetheless ends up functioning as religion for many persons that adopt and identify with the ideology. There are the sacraments of nutrition supplements, the rituals of cryonics, the prophecies of indefinite healthy life extension, the spirits of substrate independent minds, the apocalyptic and messianic postures toward artificial intelligence, the millennial paradisiacal hope of life and abundance beyond present notions of suffering and poverty, and ultimately the pantheon of posthumanity.

Religion, by definition, requires a supernatural god. If you equate eating healthy, going to hospitals when you're sick, and going to school to become smarter as religious experiences, then I can understand why you also see nutrition supplements, procedures to extend life, and AI as comparable to religious functions. If, someday, someone erects a Church of the Latter-day Transhumanists and those of us who want to be cryoconserved must first sacrifice a lamb to the God of Freon, I'll agree with you that transhumanism is functioning as a religion. Until that day comes, we're going to have to agree to disagree.

Edit: fix video formatting

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C_prompt, we're still not quite communicating. Maybe these will help a little more.



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In light of these definitions, I contend that persons who criticize me for using "religion" and "God" in unusual ways are expressing fundamentalist inclinations to special cases of "religion" and "God". They are insisting on strict adherence to the basic principles of a particular religion or God, even if they happen to reject the existence or morality of that particular religion or God, rather than allowing for discussion of religion and God in general.

Well, you're either going to use words and terms to have definitive meanings or you aren't. So if I define a plane as a powered heavier-than-air aircraft that has fixed wings from which it derives most of its lift and you say "a bicycle is a mode of transportation just like a plane, so don't be such a fundamentalist because a bicycle can also be a plane..."

...yeah, that's going to cause some communication problems, don't you think?

Apologies if I'm not properly understanding these articles, but you should either define religion as requiring a god or not requiring a god. If you define religion as not requiring a god, I think most people aren't going to consider your definition valid. Again, rebranding didn't work for ID (and, IMO, it was just another attempt to mislead people).

If I'm interpreting what you wrote correctly, you think "postsecular religion" can achieve a positive philosophical revolution. Yet (presecular?) religion has clearly been a key contributor to the messed-up philosophical state we're in now. I haven't read anything in any of these articles that suggests a new or different direction. To wit, even the Wikipedia entry for postsecularism says it's ambiguous:

There is wide disagreement over the meaning of the term. Particularly contested is the question of whether “postsecular” refers to a new sociological phenomenon or to a new awareness of an existing phenomenon—that is, whether society was secular and now is becoming post-secular or whether society was never and is not now becoming secular even though many people had thought it was or thought it was going to be.[9][10] Some suggest that the term is so conflicted as to be of little use.[11] Others suggest that the flexibility of the term is one of its strengths.[12]

I'm certainly not capable enough to support or refute a word or viewpoint to which even its adherents can't agree.

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...but you should either define religion as requiring a god or not requiring a god.

POI: One of the acceptable definitions for religion is 'something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: "to make a religion of fighting prejudice."'

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c_prompt, this is my definition of religion:


Although theism is not essential to religion, I do identify as a theist, but for rather untraditional (and certainly not supernatural) reasons. Did you catch this link?


No need to apologize for not understanding. I'm sharing some unusual ideas, and you've no prior reason to suppose I'm not just insane or stupid or dishonest or whatever. We can't reasonably go about life giving serious consideration to every unusual idea we encounter -- especially in the age of the Internet.

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It’s interesting you consider religion a social technology. “Going viral” is all the rage in social media. Companies make buku bank when people (especially the younger, more hip, and technically savvy generations) share content. Social media sites like Facebook already have a mammoth subscription base so, if you can get your content to go viral there, you have an instant, huge audience.

We know most people are easily manipulated, which is one of the reasons people accept supernatural ideas. Considering the large population who hold religious beliefs, if you could somehow harness existing followers and offer rational philosophies, you’d certainly make inroads more quickly. However, you face an uphill battle with religion's leadership. Good luck trying to convince anyone at the Vatican to replace the supernatural with science and rationalism (even while standing in their observatory). But theoretically, if you could target and tap religious leaders, you might stand a chance getting those ideas to spread within the community.

Anyone have the Pope’s phone number? 39 06 698 BEL-IEVE is disconnected.

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OK, from the first link and your comment, I take this as your definition of postsecular religion:

Postsecular Religion: a social technology and practice that provokes a strenuous mood for a group of people and that does not require  a belief in the existence of a God or gods or a set of propositions

Is that accurate? If so, how does religion differ from, say, sports' fans or people following a political ideology or a Corvette Fan Club or the Bohemian Grove or a Wall Street Secret Society or a children's camp? From this definition, I can't distinguish or differentiate postsecular religion from many other social activities that provoke excitement and energy.

One of your articles referred to a debate you had with someone about Ayn Rand's Objectivism philosophy. Here are a few of her points about definitions from Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology:

A definition is a statement that identifies the nature of the units subsumed under a concept.

It is often said that definitions state the meaning of words. This is true, but it is not exact. A word is merely a visual-auditory symbol used to represent a concept; a word has no meaning other than that of the concept it symbolizes, and the meaning of a concept consists of its units. It is not words, but concepts that man defines—by specifying their referents.

The purpose of a definition is to distinguish a concept from all other concepts and thus to keep its units differentiated from all other existents.

Since the definition of a concept is formulated in terms of other concepts, it enables man, not only to identify and retain a concept, but also to establish the relationships, the hierarchy, the integration of all his concepts and thus the integration of his knowledge. Definitions preserve, not the chronological order in which a given man may have learned concepts, but the logical order of their hierarchical interdependence.

With certain significant exceptions, every concept can be defined and communicated in terms of other concepts. The exceptions are concepts referring to sensations, and metaphysical axioms.


A definition must identify the nature of the units, i.e., the essential characteristics without which the units would not be the kind of existents they are.


Since man is not omniscient, a definition cannot be changelessly absolute, because it cannot establish the relationship of a given group of existents to everything else in the universe, including the undiscovered and unknown. And for the very same reasons, a definition is false and worthless if it is not contextually absolute—if it does not specify the known relationships among existents (in terms of the known essential characteristics) or if it contradicts the known (by omission or evasion).

Those all seem pretty reasonable as guidance for defining terms, don't you think? (I also liked this one from The Romantic Manifesto: "Definitions are the guardians of rationality, the first line of defense against the chaos of mental disintegration.") If we use that guidance, the definition I wrote above is probably pretty lousy so I'll need you to improve it given these points. However, if you think the definition properly reflects your idea, what is it about that definition that you think could affect a philosophical revolution any more than a bunch of football fans egging on their favorite team?

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I enjoyed your post at http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/cannon20120315. Your ideas about faith seem agnostic and broad, both reasonable and well-accepted uses of the term. It is odd that you learned these as a child growing up among Mormons, but I don’t have in-depth knowledge of Mormon teachings.

Discussions on faith always remind me of The Mummy scene where Rick O’Connell says “After what I just saw, I'm willing to go on a little faith here.” We take things on faith whenever we assume. Complete information isn’t worth the cost (if even possible). When I meet someone, I assume he or she is a good person. When I eat at a restaurant, I assume the food isn’t poison. In both instances, I don’t have hard data to support my assumptions. All I possess is generalized knowledge attained over the years. Call me lazy but, given enough accumulated experiences, there are many things I don’t even think to question on a daily basis. Besides, and rightfully so, they would kick me out of the restaurant if I attempted to inspect the kitchen.

Some people (including myself) are quite open to challenges against something taken on faith if provided sound reasoning or the proper motivation. (Note: The supernatural and superstition are not examples of sound reasoning, and force is not an example of proper motivation.) No harm in reconsidering a position held if there’s a rational basis for doing so. Who knows? You might learn something.

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