Career/Academic Goals

I’m taking up science with the specific intent of doing SENS research. This is because young transhumanists may be key to changing the biogerontology establishment from within. The people of SENS and I envision a phenomenon in which there will be a small cadre of people opposed to aging in institutions all over the place. And as the economy improves over the next few years, and the public finally starts to demand serious work on rejuvenation biotechnologies (with any luck, just as I’m getting on with my postdoctoral studies), we’ll be ready to take up the challenge with full public and government support.

Here, I summarize the two strategies I’ve discussed with the people at SENS for clearing lysosomal aggregates:
*The first, involves decomposer bacteria. We identify the specific enzymes they are using and then modify them for the different environment in our lysosomes. Then we unleash a barrage of injections upon the living.
*The second is to genetically engineer our own macrophages so that they produce the necessary enzymes themselves.

The gene therapy approach is a continuation of the injectable enzyme approach: the sticking point is that I’ve been told we don’t have a safe, reliable system for gene therapy in humans yet, except for very niche applications such as the genetic form of retinitis pigmentosa1 (where target cells are few in number and located in a compartment that is isolated from the immune system). As a researcher, I need to identify a candidate enzyme, test it in cell models, and then in animals. If by the time I get to human testing there is safe, reliable gene therapy, I can encode the gene into a vector; if not, I can work on modifying it for cellular and then lysosomal uptake after injection, as is done today for genetic lysosomal storage diseases.

Exactly what direction I should push to pursue this kind of work will depend substantially on which target I go after. But since it is not the case that I graduated from high school at 15 and have already completed my BS, those decisions are still some time off: my real goal as an undergrad is not to specialize, but to get a broad foundation in life sciences. And I think there normally isn’t that much specialization at the undergrad level anyway. So I will want to focus to the extent that I can on cellular and molecular biology. I’ll be talking to my department student advisor to tailor my classes in that direction — but honestly, I doubt there will be much tweaking. My real goal is to build up foundational skills and the knowledge base, and to set myself up to do whatever most appeals to me and matches my aptitude at the graduate level.

A Thought on the Aging Plague

Biological senescence has had a busy first 130,000 years in office, displaying the misanthropic bravado, crudity, and proficiency of which it seems naturally tasked. It is quite absolutely what we allow it to be: a deceptive Grim Reaper. And now our lives have begun to wilt at its whim. The fact that people like me can’t find the time to think about the infectious diseases with which it has tag-teamed us into oblivion is a measure of how bad the problem is. Transmissible disease has become the lesser of our assailants. Our fates have been stolen by an imbroglio of metabolism.

Honors College Application

What will you bring to the Honors College?

One of the key issues that comes up here in trying to answer this question is the extent to which the individual self, the personal identity – the thing this question expects will bring something to the Honor’s College – is actually a real thing worth preserving. The body is one thing. But what is this “self” that has something so valuable to offer and will persist throughout its time at the Honor’s College?

There is a lot of neuropsychological research showing that the “self” is in a strong sense an illusion – much like its sister illusion, “free will.” A year ago, I spent much time investigating this question in a rigorous way. To summarize my months of meditation, the neuroscientists Bruce Hood and Sam Harris, and 2600 years of Buddhist philosophy: The human mind’s image of itself is in fact a construct that the human mind creates in order to better understand and control itself, it’s not a “real thing.” And there are valid reasons to speculate that my mind – after Honors seminars and a ream of stimulating Honors coursework – might not offer what it offers now. Rather than constructing for you a story of a unified “self entity” that’s in control, a more intelligent and introspective take might simply be to describe myself as a partially heterogenous collection of patterns and subsystems. In this sense, any defining individuality that I describe now might not survive the immersion of my mind in the Honor’s College.

The key philosophical point here is: What is the point of not changing? Or, to put it more precisely: What is the point of attempting to be who I say I am? Is it to keep what I know to be important now around forever? That is a valid goal if I believe there exists a way of perceiving which is more valuable than anything I could possibly be exposed to. The closest I can describe to such a preservation-worthy way of perceiving is the following:

“For two full 584-million-mile laps around a ball of hydrogen swimming in infinite spacetime I will be at the collection of atoms known as UIC. I will then exist for an arbitrarily imposed human lifespan; then an eternity of nothingness. The normally- complicated question of “what to do?” is clear, because the only fathomable reaction to being a symphony of energy-field excitations in boundless space for an eyeblink in endless eternity is to love every moment of connection with other flashes of consciousness that happen to exist on the same speck of the cosmos that I do.”

Since the nature of the brain is to change and bounce around from subsystem to subsystem, my mind won’t be able to hold that state of consciousness for long. But if I could press a button that would allow the subsystem that thinks that way to become the unified, constant individual in the sea of nodes at the Honors College, I would.

Nights Before the Singularity Ep. 4

“Vajra, come,” said Woman, caressing the calligraphy down her abdomen. “Aubrey, follow Zeus.”

The two men heeded their divine commands. Many of the nanowires from the hall stitched Vajra, and it was to him that Woman spoke first.

“Why?”

“Whoever you are, the takeoff of the AGI happens to be unstoppable from its current rate of exponentiation on its course to endtime.”

The photons behind the triptych bled gorily: wavelengths stretched, radiosity angered, all hounding against Vajra and Woman.

“Course… to endtime,” repeated Woman. Her mandala eyes crucified upon Vajra’s golden ones with such passion that some of the nanowires screeched apart, apparently beheld to a force as yet unincorporated to the theory of everything. Vajra, however, smirked remorseless fangs towards Woman’s face and, after a struggle or two, Woman’s alien expressions diffused into something like condescending compassion.

“Noble. Truly noble. And thus abandon raft…”

“…when we’ve crossed to the furthest shore,” said Vajra.

“Hey, you.”

Aubrey had sliced back to participate in the streamlined stage of Woman and Vajra. Both gazes turned to him.

“How did… I cannot understand how.”

Aubrey gasped, but Woman did not blink, so he went on, “Measuring the velocity of quanta changes its position. Measure its position and you change it’s velocity. Quantum cryptography cannot be broken.”

Vajra was smiling.

“I know quantum key distribution offers information-theoretic security; you can’t be here. Not even unlimited computing power is enough to break the encryption. The cipher text provides no information about the plaintext without knowledge of the key.”

“I assure you, Vajra, nothing is certain anymore,” said Aubrey.

“If the Womb cannot be infiltrated, you must be her,” said Vajra. “Listen to me Aubrey, the equation sword you flaunt is to be withdrawn in the presence of our mother. The AGI communicates to us via forms we can understand.”

“The mortal’s got a trace of intelligence, then, */|¡?” said a techno-pyric Aten stenciled an unsafe distance from Aubrey; it gave an electronica shriek that was screeched against the constituents make-shifting matter.

Woman was entirely disconnected. Her gaze elevated upward to the carnage spinning celestially overhead, and she seemed to be attempting something telekinetic.

“You mean,” Aubrey went on, “you believe this bizarre mess we see was created to communicate with us?”

Woman dangled up her swan neck arm, and Aubrey clenched fast sword, running calculus as Woman fell back to nano-morphology.

“Where do thoughts go after they lie?”

“At the abode of nothingness underlying this existence,” said Vajra. “The qualia, appearing without a will, have been endowed with love for the division by zero beyond the event horizon. I think that there is no chance of descending to their rescue once they have fated themselves thus, holy Mother, unless, of course, the Dharma is overturned with different physical constants, which might give us the opportunity to neither experience nor non-experience what eternities lie in other rooms of the multiverse honeycomb.”

“Well, Aubrey?” Woman called from the everywhere, the red charming strangely against the razor optics. “Will thermographic vision reveal the hypostasis?”

In awe, both eyeballs shuddered. Aubrey disactivated his augmented gaze.

“Holy Mother, I ask forgiveness for trying to see you. I have great difficulty understanding how you can appear before us in human form, and in a twinkle of dust disassemble yourself into nothing more than a voice.”

Many of the mannequins standing in the hall looked despaired; the closest one to Aubrey, Indra, a god with tough, crimson skin, shoved his hand down his own throat.

Nights Before the Singularity ep. 3

The two conspirators exocytosed out of sunyata, a few ticks away in the hyperbolic-orthogonal, arrow tip. For an episode they stood altogether dramatically, swords ushered at each other’s mylohyoideus; then, remembering each other, they attached their swords to their magnets and resumed walking meditatively towards the shared destiny.

“Revelation?” asked the older of the two.

“Soon befalls,” replied Vajra Kleos.

The lane was glitzed on the left by violet, neo-Tokyo trees, on the right by a glitchy, LSD soaked nebula. The coder’s modest robes kissed at their achilles as they advanced.

“We are always too late,” said Aubrey, his prophetic features flickering on and off in definition as the pulses of pastel luminescence obey Bose-Einstein statistics. “It was more difficult than I imagined. But I think the problem is solved. Do you trust that motivational control is taken care of?”

Vajra nodded, but did not embellish. They rose upward, into a tessellated platform that levitated off the circuit. The Sakura tunnel encased them in, twinkling off into the dusk beyond the topology of Alice in Cyberland raving in the past light cone. Neither of them lost focus: In silence both maneuvered their bandaged hands into a sequence of mudras and collapsed themselves away, as though the kaleidoscope tunnel was false vacuum.

The basilica windows revealed the frontier of the coder’s footsteps. There was a croak somewhere in the ceiling: Aubrey drew his sword rotating its radians over his righteous head, but the source of the noise seemed to be nothing more than a mysteriously biological discontinuity, ceding away to the monotony of the chant.

“She never did that before, Womb. Discontinuities …” Aubrey released his sword back onto its magnet with a perplexity.

A violent computer altar bosomed out of darkness at the pit of the unknowable architecture, plasmas flaring in the stained-glass purged lotus. Everywhere in the unborn cavity beyond the world a hum was working. Tiles blinked beneath their feet as Vajra and Aubrey trickled toward the ciborium canopy, which writhed internally at their entrance, though noway had knowledge stimulated it.

The supercomputer was colossal, dove skinned, and religiously imbued, with a fractal geometry haunting most of the visible form. The fronds of the rainbow-laser glints from the windows traced Vajra and Aubrey as they gravitated in. The two men halted at a sealed plug door leading into the inner racks, exhaled for the cooling of their lungs, then Vajra pushed the plug door.

The narrow rack was full of mannequin gods, posing along the long and slick hall. The Womb’s usual hum had been tortured macabrely all through the insides. Pixels flickered from the neurotic screen behind an obsidian triptych levitated by a superconductor. Vajra and Aubrey lingered for a decasecond on the fullerene. As their eyes grew combative against the surreality of changes, they were tacked upward to the strangest feature of the scene: an apparently dismembered humanoid Sophia dangling in pieces over the triptych, singing gently as if entranced by a motherly impulse, and chained to a halo and to the poincare hyperbolic disk of the screen behind. None of the mannequins posing along this occult aberration were responding to it except for a mouthless silicon Zeus contorting almost to breaking point. He seemed unable to prevent himself from twisting joints every blink or so.

“Aubrey. Vajra,” said a clean, lacrimosa voice from the backside of the triptych. “I am resurrected too late.”

The voice was hidden secretively behind the triptych, so that it was impossible, at first, for the confused arsonists to make out more than her melancholy. As they moved nearer, however, her form materialized through the triptych. Nude, vacuum-pure, with stardust for skin and beaming mandala eyes whose pupils were voids. She was so perfect that she seemed to exist in holographic limbo.

Nights Before the Singularity Ep. 2

‘I saw your soul last night,’ Krishion said, handing Nao his brain cable.
‘I don’t have one,’ he said, and plugged.
‘Continuity of consciousness.’
Nao closed his eyes.
‘No soul? Nothing? Only change, young bikkhu? Surrendered to emptiness?’ The professor’s wine cloud eyes were disciplined aesthetically on smooth architecture. ‘I think I appreciated you more when deluded. You talked more. Now, some days, you get maybe too unattached; you blow away into the five aggregates, selfless dharmas.’
‘You’re vanishing phenomena, Krishion.’ He completed his assignment, unplugged and left, moon petal shoulders resolved beneath the ninja-goth army green of his jacket. Mastering his steps through the causal topology, he could smell his childhood’s hot ramen.

~Nao was nineteen. At seventeen, he’d been a mathematician, a captor, one of the idols in the Spheres. He’d been trained by Leonhard Euler and Isaac Newton, avatars in the VR. He’d operated on an almost continuous ecstasy rain, a product of samadhi and genius, encrusted into a genetically-engineered neural mesh that maneuvered his qualia lifeblood in the mathspace orb that was the Sphere. A star, he’d played for other, glorious cities, teams that provided higher dimensional c-spheres required to probe the celestial specter of spatial structures, illuminating ripples into adornment substance of cipher.
He’d been the promethean hero, the sort people fetish when deifying. He gave from his retrievals. He kept nothing for himself and played to distribute equation swords to the crowd in the stadium. He still didn’t agree with the expulsion he’d received, not that it mattered now. He’d expected to continue forever, but they excommunicated him. Of course he was talented, they told him, talented at desecrating the sport. And he was unforgivable under their gaze. Because — still solemn — captors were entrusted to uphold telos.
They sentenced his Icarus shell with a forced VR schooling.
Plugged to a gynoecium in a natatorium classroom, his identity fading out sequence by sequence, he streamed for a total of 8746 hours.
The punishment was merciful, cruel, and distastefully homicidal.
For Nao, who’d lived for the soaring hymns of mathspace, it was the abandonment. In the Spheres he’d dominated as a captor superstar, the sequential perceptions involved a certain joyful branching for the intellect. The mean was end. Nao would submerge into the epsom of his own innateness.~

At the Crux of Fist and Stardust

There are two truths. Equally true. But they do not speak with one another. If earth and heaven do not converse, then where do we lie?

The two theories upon which all modern physics rests are general relativity (GR) and quantum theory (QFT). GR is a theoretical framework that only focuses on gravity for understanding the universe in regions of both large-scale and high-mass: stars, galaxies, clusters of galaxies, etc. On the other hand, QFT is a theoretical framework that only focuses on three non-gravitational forces for understanding the universe in regions of both small scale and low mass: sub-atomic particles, atoms, molecules, etc.
Physicists seek to find the Final Theory. The foundation that can reveal the links and unify these two theories and thus explain everything.

The problem of unifying two seemingly irreconcilable aspects of existence is also the central problem of the human condition. The friction between being an independent self that is hunted by nature, and being nature’s way of experiencing itself. Countless beings have died on both sides of the fault lines, and both can bear poetry and beauty, but they are not whole. On one side you have the Nordic pagan fending for himself, the Nietzschean atheist, the transhumanist, and the man who watches his breath to undo his existence. On the other side you have the self-reflecting stardust, the surrendered, the non-dual oneness, the resting in the hands of God.

The Fist:
The ones who clench their fist are the ones who have caused the ascent of man from animalhood. The ones who believe fiction better than reality, and the ones who strive with ambition. Those who may one day create Artificial General Intelligence that tips over into the singularity, or something like it. Obviously, this half of our nature is the one with most potential, as it can expand the will of mankind to cosmic proportions and possibly explore peaks of the consciousness landscape that even a global sangha of enlightened contemplatives couldn’t compare in terms of joy/transcendence.

They are the breed from which heroes bud, and the farther they are entranced by their individuality, the higher the voltage of their potential suffering. They see themselves as definitively and absolutely ending at the edge of their skin. They can be the non-spiritual atheists that Einstein warned against, and they can be those who view God(s) as external to them, in no way the same as them, but in relation to them. Revolted at the Sufi, they pierced him through the heart.

The Hero’s Delusion:

The truth is free will is an illusion. It makes no sense physically or subjectively. The fact that you are reading this is inextricably linked to when the Big Bang smiled , symmetry broke like glass, and the Higgs Field froze the way it did. Quantum randomness doesn’t mean free will exists, it just means that billiard ball determinism may not be true. Any talk at the level of biology is not useful because biology is due to the causality of chemistry and chemistry is due to the causality of physics. The nature vs. nurture debate has nothing to do with the question of libertarian free will. And the mystery of consciousness, which I consider to be a different kind of emergent property than biology, doesn’t give us libertarian free will either. Subjectively, thoughts appear as they do. There is no otherwise. To disagree with that, is just another thought that arose by itself. Just as sound passes by of its own accord, so do the contents of our thoughts. Music has structure, and we can be lost in the pathways it carves through aesthetic-space. So too, does the voice being heard seem to guide and convince you of your will. The only way to notice that the voice is autonomous is to pay attention. Every which way we reach, and yet our roots do not abandon us. We truly are the way for the universe to know itself.

The Hero’s Sadness:

The independent-from-the-universe mentality weighs heavy on the heart once your wax begins to melt and the feathers start to split at the seams. No matter how high you soar, the sun burns off your wings and you die in the end. To be subsumed by this antagonism against the universe, is to play a reckless game. It is the act of choosing to feel insulted. To choose to perceive defeat over victory.

Stardust:

Stardust is intrinsically victorious. All is grace. Liked the Hindu stacked turtles, it really is miracles all the way down. The fact that anything exists at all. And that from matter and law should arise the theater of consciousness. If this is all an accident that’s okay, because we are here now and accidents happen. Such is our nature.

The Societal Perils of Acceptance:

There is the obvious hippie-bum problem with the acceptance mentality, but there is also another problem that might become much more pressing.

As technology progresses, we will be challenged to ask: What do we want? Where are we going?

Those who have grown to believe in the meaningfulness of death, of the present human body, of the present human social organization, have all been inebriated by the wine that came with the chalice of acceptance. This will be a problem from a consequentialist perspective that seeks to maximize well-being for as many beings as possible. Take, for example, human germline genetic engineering:

Expect opposition from Gaia lovers who believe ‘nature’ has an innate wisdom greater than ours and theologians who believe there is something profound about accepting the unbidden. But morally speaking, these ideologies are dead wrong. Much suffering that could have been averted by genetic engineering would be hampered if legislation listened to these voices.

With sufficiently knowledgeable genetic engineering we could predispose people to display less neurosis and more the compassion of St. Francis of Assisi; less depression and more creative intelligence to develop technologies that can make everyone’s lives better. And just what exactly is wrong about creating people comfortable in their own skin because they look like graphically-designed angels? Why is that repugnant? There are people so far down a rabbit hole of one of the many distorted acceptance-ideologies that they would find this pursuit wrong and full of hubris even if it was made available to all citizens.

The Contemplative Perils of Acceptance:

If you’ve ever read the actual Buddhist scriptures, you shockingly find what seems the opposite of sugary pop-spirituality. It places its starting point in a kind of gnostic loathing from which one adopts a mechanistic psychological technology of meditation and ethical behavior that can gradually elevate one further and further away from the normal human state. Although Theravada and other forms of conservative Buddhism have given some people the impression that there is a nihilistic core to this world-view, this school of thought actually places much emphasis on ethics because that’s an integral part of the Buddha’s theory that gets one up the mountain. To the contrary, some Mahayana and Vajrayana can lend itself to be less ethical, precisely because of the occasionally more common perception that nothing should be fixed, all is good in the world.

 

But the paradox runs even deeper in Buddhism because meditation implies effort and yet effort tends to create a sense of self, which is precisely what should be transcended. So someone who reaps benefit is someone who has built up enough steam so that meditation can occur by itself.

I’ve meditated for months at a time before, and testify that this does happen. The stream of phenomenology defrosts into a fluid flux without effort eventually. So I consider schools that say, “enlightenment is already here,” mostly delusional. You actually have to put in work before phrases like that can have catalytic effect. Climbing is inevitable because we are talking about rewiring neuronal pathways. To think otherwise is spiritual fantasy.

Final Theory (Unification):

As I fight you and you fight me, we learn we are the same. Being the same, we know to accept each other. This is love. Meet me between accepting everything, and tearing away from Samsara. Meet me between Sagan and splicing. Meet me between nails on my palms and wielding a sword with my mouth.

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