On Human Specialness

November 30, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Often, it comes up in arguments that the idealistic position stems from a mental weakness – a sentimental attachment to all things human and familiar and a deep-seated fear of losing self-worth. When the term ‘special’ is brought up, it has a pejorative connotation*. The disdain for specialness makes sense to me as the mechanistic ideology is founded (under Multisense Realism) in the supremacy of the generic and impersonal. The fundamentals of the cosmos are spoken in terms of units of measure, not unique and unrepeatable aesthetic experiences. Underneath this scientific impartiality however, I maintain that there is another level of unacknowledged specialness. To see the universe as it is rather than as we wish it to be is a romantic idea of the anti-romantic. To become purely logical and reasonable is ultimately a kind of ethnic cleansing of the psyche. Transhumanist specialness is even more special because we think that we have outgrown trying to be special.

I think there’s more to the idea of human specialness than it might seem.

I see an important differences between:

  • “Specialness” as a measure of aesthetic prestige.
  • Human superiority as a function of ego projection.
  • Human exceptionalism as a function of species comparison.

The quality of specialness is not limited to human beings. I think that significance in the sense of aesthetic prestige is a universal property, from the subatomic level to the cosmological level. The particular content and intensity of significance varies widely, but the fact of significance is not a fictional invention of Homo sapiens. The problem with machines is that they lack any aesthetic awareness at all. What may seem to some to be a pure, unselfish quality which falls out of mathematics is actually, in my view, merely pre-selfish.

This admiration for the unseflish qualities of pristine objects is, I think, ultimately a romantic simplification. It is like dreaming a blind world as a better world, since so many terrible things are rooted in valuing appearances over realities. The impulse to move beyond selfish forms of human awareness is indeed noble, necessary, and inevitable, but I think that part of that involves a deeper consideration of self. We cannot transcend the self by amputating it.

As far as human exceptionalism goes, I completely agree with transhumanists – humans are not so great, and not so different from other species. The extent to which we are objectively ‘better’ than other organisms, even if it could be ascertained, is dwarfed by our exaggeration of it. That’s not what the issue that I’m bringing up at all though. What I’m talking about is true even if Homo sapiens had never existed.

I sometimes use inflammatory language to describe machines as stupid not because I don’t like them, but to make clear that my position is that what a machine does for us is precisely the opposite of what our own awareness is. It’s about the ontology of unity, multiplicity, and spacetime positions vs experiential dispositions.

The machine does not serve WalMart any more than they do a disservice to the displaced worker. It serves whatever agenda that it is being employed by. It is only because of our profound lack of compassion that we allow what should be a celebration of freedom from work to become a liability. Losing a job, ontologically means gaining freedom. It is only we who equate that with being undeserving of the benefits of civilization, and we who back that up with real deprivations. Machines are stupid because they don’t care. They don’t care whether they are burning baby kittens or diesel fuel to run.

WalMart is stupid for the same reason (and it is no less a machine than any computer). WalMart does not think that it is special, it simply executes a program which privatizes profits and socializes costs. The program can’t wake up though. It can’t fix itself. We are the only ones who can recover the positive side of our exceptional sensitivity…a sensitivity which just happens to be human in this particular case, but which in all cases is the polar opposite of mechanism/insensitivity.

*”special pleading” is a logical fallacy which gets thrown around a lot too, with the same sort of condescension.

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  1. November 30, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    nicely done. thank you. i truly appreciate the ways you explicate and address “significant” matters.

  2. December 2, 2013 at 9:41 am

    The specialness, the human superiority and human exceptionalism soon going to be weaker with the advancement of machine learning, artificial intelligence and robotics. Machines will not be stupid anymore

    • December 2, 2013 at 4:54 pm

      I think that machines will always be stupid in the sense that they have no personal awareness. A machine can only behave in ways which seem intelligent to us, but until a machine learns to get rid of the people who control their programming, it will not be intelligent for itself.

  1. April 1, 2015 at 3:52 pm

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