Just another book on Philosophy; so why should you read it at all?
Because, like us, you want to live forever, and you want to change the
world of course. An ambitious opening, but we'll try to justify it as
we go along. Hopefully you'll stay for a few pages, if only to see just
how deranged we really are.
And why should anyone want to change the world?
If you really need an answer to that question, you're reading the wrong
(1) Where do you want us to start? Starvation?
Warming? The Growth
of Antibiotic Resistance? The potential for Global
Terror following 9-11 or closer to home perhaps (for Britons anyway)
Age pensioners dying of hypothermia because they can't pay fuel bills;
people without a roof over their heads; a
million people looking for work; Rape,
Murder and violent crime generally on the increase, potential loss
of a generation through mad
cow disease... need we go on?
O.K. we get the message. The world is a great place
to visit, but we wouldn't want to live there. So what do we do about it?
What can we do about it? In particular, what gives us any reason to imagine
that there might be some globally applicable answers?
Lets put it this way. If there is a rational solution
to our problems, then it follows that some pretty serious rational thinking
might lead to its discovery. Agreed? Well this book begins with some exploration
of what constitutes rationality. We will try to define how we decide what
it is reasonable to believe. If we can reach a consensus on that, then
we may be able to go one step further and agree on a basis for judging
what constitutes rational behaviour, both for individuals and for humanity
The conclusions we reach will, we hope, form a consistent philosophical
basis for both democracy and anarchism and a means of determining when
the decision making process should switch from one mode to the other.
This is, of course, not the first attempt at an
exercise in deciding "what is Rational". Philosophers have been
trying to teach us to think rationally for at least 5,000 years. Looking
around us, one of the few things we can say with some degree of certainty,
is that they must have failed! But that's no reason to give up the search.
There seem to be at least two complementary ways
of looking at the world. First might be called "pure" philosophy and involves
starting from the position that we doubt everything - including the evidence
of our own eyes - and we reconstruct "reality" from first principles.
The most famous (though not particularly consistent) attempt at this method
was by Rene Descartes whose starting point has become the cliche "I
think, therefore I am".
The second method is the exact opposite, i.e. to
trust your own senses and the reported observations of others based on
their senses; accept almost everything at face value and then construct
a model which can encompass all these observations. By "almost everything",
we mean that we can, perhaps "should", try to accept virtually
any serious and sincere attempt to describe the world we live in, as holding
some portion of the "truth", even if such attempts appear to contradict
each other. By dovetailing two or more apparently contradictory ideas
together, one can often arrive at a third - more complete - reality.
Sound a bit too mystical? Not intended to be. Imagine
you are on an airfield in the desert. Its dark and an electrical storm
has been playing around for hours. One pilot reports that he nearly flew
into a large triangular object close to the airfield which, fortunately,
was illuminated by a lightning flash just in time. Another pilot
reports that, in another flash, she saw a most bizarre square object as
she circled down to land. You suspect that there is only one "large object"
out there. Assuming they are both telling the truth, what is it? No doubt
you have correctly deduced - by marrying the two, apparently contradictory,
reports together - that what they have both seen is, of course, a pyramid.
Further observations may cause us to modify the interpretation accordingly;
or they may simply increase our confidence in the model.
Thats how the dialectic
process works. Its a simple basis for Conflict Resolution. Start by
accepting that both (all) points of view have a kernel of truth, then
figure out what the overall truth must be in order for all the apparently
conflicting viewpoints to be possible.
For example, many of us are passionately atheist
and personally convinced there is no god in the religious sense, and no
need for a god to explain our existence or behaviour. However, some of
us - including the authors - expect several species in our own Universe
will evolve to levels at which they are capable of performing godlike
actions, including, possibly, the creation of new universes and resurrection
of the dead. It is even conceivable that our own universe may have been
initiated by one or more such advanced species. It may also be that organic
life, through dna itself, may contain buried pointers to that origin which
fuelled the primitive urge to attribute existence to a god, which in that
context - recognition of a distant ancestor - would actually be a valid
attribution. The major difference between the atheist position and the
religious position would then lie in the origin of the creator. Atheism
is based on our confidence that even if there is or was such a creator,
it is or was a natural phenomenon (somewhere, somewhen) and that it is
possible to explain its evolution in rational scientific terms (even though
we may not yet be able to comprehend the relevant science).
This is the basis of the lighthearted "Conversation
With God". It is also the basis of Theist Frank J Tipler's much
more serious and controversial "Omega
Point Theory" The religious believer, however, for reasons atheists
regard as completely unnecessary, still insists that a creator must be
supernatural and somehow beyond the laws of the universe in which it exists
and thus forever beyond mere human understanding. We might even accept
that - it may well be that mere humans never will be capable of understanding
more advanced species, any more than a chimp can understand us. What we
cannot accept is that the explanation of how godlike creatures come to
be is forever beyond the comprehension of all conceivable intelligent
life forms. And many of us suspect that the human race itself will evolve
into one or more of those conceivable life forms and, in passing, achieve
such a level of understanding. If god is defined in Tipler terms, atheists
would have little quarrel with it, although many question the scientific
premises on which his model is based.
In short, in its historical context, a self initiating
God might be considered a reasonable hypothesis; in much the same way
as Thunder and Lightning might seem self-initiating until you understand
lightning comes about. But the deeper understanding of the Universe
we have acquired over the past few centuries do not need or permit such
a naive view. In particular, as we begin to understand how
we are about to take charge of our own evolution, it becomes increasingly
clear that there are no obvious limits to evolution. Gods ARE possible.
As we've suggested already, we may even be heading that way ourselves.
But they will all share our humble origins in one form or another.
Important point: There will be NO DOGMA
within these pages. Amongst other things, this book is an attack on Dogma
- all dogma, religious, political, economic, philosophical or social.
It is an attempt to deal with the world in which no all-encompassing dogma
can ever possibly meet all our requirements. Hence if anyone ever tries
using these ideas as dogma with which to beat the heretic, they are themselves
guilty of the prime heresy, and anyone quoting this work (with the possible
exception of this paragraph) as an "authority" in any argument is somewhat
missing the point. IF, within these pages, we lay bare any Truths about
the Universe or how to behave in it, then the insights are meaningless
unless there is a great deal more to support them than these pages. Doesn't
this contradict ambitions to change the world? Not really. It is the readers
of this site and others like it, who - if enough of them agree -
will change the world, not these or other messengers. If we do provide
a focus for effective action it will, at most, be the catalyst not the
cause. And we would proudly settle for that.
We do not consider our own conclusions on such
"moral" issues as Capital Punishment, Abortion, the Legalisation of Cannabis
or whatever are any more "valid" than anyone else's. By our
own definitions, even if those views are "correct" in any objective
sense, they are certainly no more important than any one else's opinion.
(This, in short, IS the fundamental basis for democracy - Objective Truth,
if it exists at all, is merely one - important but not exclusive - factor
in arriving at a Majority View) We discuss such issues only as a way of
illustrating our real purpose in writing this book, which is not to lay
down yet another set of rules on how to run society but
rather a template which illustrates how to decide how to run society.
There is no rational way to provide all the answers to the billion knotty
behavioural questions which we face. We believe there is, however, a logically
consistent and rational framework for society to use in framing and answering
Later we raise several specific issues and make
known what we suspect will be seen as firm and somewhat controversial
views we hold on these issues. We will restate this point whenever we
feel it necessary, but these views are not the result of applying
our approach to philosophy. They are simply personal views as we might
express them using the method we wish to recommend for social decision
making - together with some semi-educated guesses at what the social reactions
might be. It is however the Method thats important, not the conclusions
we anticipate or may wish to see as a result of its adoption. In
other words, these "sample" topics are raised here purely as illustrations
of how to conduct the argument. They are not supposed to be the
only conclusions you can reach by practising the philosophy we intend
The next point we wish to make in this introduction
concerns you. Who are you? Who are we aiming this book at?
In short, The Active Citizen.
This means all those who take part, or intend to
take part, at whatever level, in running the community they feel part
of. Teachers, Councillors, Medics, Social workers and Trade Union
activists are obvious choices. Politicians of course. But we also include
activists in social clubs, the Women's Institute, Voluntary Organisations,
and, since 1993, Web Activists - who (on the surface) may appear to do
nothing more than take part in discussions in Newsgroups or the like.
In fact, as we saw most spectacularly in February 2003, with the world's
largest ever co-ordinated mass demonstrations to date, the web activist
is becoming important. Soon they will be the ones who matter most. Meanwhile,
we're interested in anyone, basically, who actually does something to
try and improve the lot of humankind. Of course, we can't be sure that
we'll reach all our potential targets this way, but we can be sure that,
here on the Web, anyone sufficiently interested and motivated will, eventually,
at least be able to reach us.
Why the activists? Because you think it
matters. We have a choice between trying to make people identify the million
problems we face - or doing something to try to solve them. It seems to
us that there is more than enough coverage of the problems and not enough
discussion of potential solutions, other than in single
issue forums. The single issue forums are fine and proving very effective,
but the problem with them is that they keep haveing to re-invent the wheel.
We believe its time to take the next step and start establishing the first
virtual people's parliament - where every voice has an equal chance of
being heard. Miniature models already exist. They can be found discussing
both the problems and their potential solutions till the proverbial cows
come home. The problem with any newsgroup, even personal favourites like
K5, is that they
quickly become too parochial. Even if we reached agreement, through the
medium of a K5 story, on a strategy which could change or save the world,
few people outside K5 would ever get to hear about it. It is a pure debating
society with no declared ambitions to carry their conclusions to a wider
audience. But imagine every online
taking part in a a modified K5 debating hierarchy...
It is, of course, unrealistic to imagine that the
average Kurdish peasant or Sudanese Nomad will read this or participate
in online debating until they have had the benefits of the kind of education
we have had in the West and have equal access to the Web. It is equally
unlikely that we will see many hits coming in from religious fundamentalists
of either the Christian or Islamic flavour, or at least not the sort of
hits we actually approve of here on the web. Ironically, the first draft
of this chapter was written the day after Khomeini pronounced the fatwa
on Salman Rushdie. We don't actually wish to fight him for pride of
place in the assassin's sights, but this book is a much more direct attack
on religious belief than Rushdie's ever was.
It must also be said that this book is not aimed
at the academic market - which makes it unusual for a serious attempt
at philosophy. Not that we mind the occasional academic reading it. We
rather hope they do. Indeed we are relying on them for the detailed criticism
of our logic. We have certainly tried to maintain academic standards of
construction. But we do want the damn thing read by more than a handful
of students and lecturers, so we're trying to make it more readable than
the average somewhat dry academic treatise.
Finally, this is intended to be an interactive effort, much along the
lines of a "free
software" development. For the time being, the initial author
is in the lead role. We invite, welcome and have already incorporated
contributions from anyone who feels the urge. If a community arises around
the project and eventually takes it over, we shall be delighted. We'll
have to figure out some kind of rules about how contributions or changes
are evaluated. But that can wait at least until we have more indications
of that kind of involvement. Up to now, contributions have been made privately
and much has changed since its first draft. One of our obsessions is the
maintenance of Privacy, so the last thing we're going to do is threaten
to breach anyone's privacy. In the absence of any formal system, therefore,
we shall assume any contributions to be private (unless they come through
the forums of course) and if we wish to credit a contribution we shall
ask permission from its author.
If you have ideas about what you read here and send
them here, then we may make use of them in a number of different
ways (subject to the kind of comment and your own wishes about how it
should be used). For example, if you disagree with something, you may
persuade us to modify the text. If we do so, we will - with your permission
- credit you for that change. Alternatively, we may disagree with your
challenge and maintain the initial stance. Even so, we may still
wish to include your comment, together, perhaps, with the counter argument,
in order to further clarify the point being discussed. If there is sufficient
interest, the discussion could even take place in the forum.
Up to now (Feb 2002) some 6 years after launching it on the web, we've
had a couple of hundred comments, the vast majority - so far - very supportive
(which may just indicate that those who don't like what they read don't
consider it worth their valuable time sending in any criticism) but few
suggesting any changes. If you do like what you read and don't feel
the need to suggest modifications, we still need comments and suggestions
on how we can bring it to a wider audience. We particularly welcome
links from your own sites, particularly if they touch on some aspect we
cover in these pages, and unless you're spouting some particularly
rabid nonsense which we find offensive (rather than merely something we
disagree with), we will happily link back to you.
One final point by way of introduction. Are we alone in our views? Well,
up till a few years ago, it rather felt that way. But in May 99 we discovered
that we are "Transhumanists" and have been since before anyone defined
the term. We'll talk more about Transhumanism
as we go, but its relevance to this work is that what we are trying to
do, amongst other things, is no less than create the "moral" and political
framework within which Transhumanism might function.
So, if we're all ready, we've got a book (2)
to write. Lets get stuck in...
exactly is philosophy anyway?
(Last Updated 20 Feb 2003)