Zoltan Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager Is A Choice We’ll All Have To Make

Zoltan Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager Is A Choice We’ll All Have To Make

While I personally loved the first half of The Transhumanist Wager and disliked much of the second, I am convinced that the novel is a must read for anyone interested in the future of our civilization.

In my view the novel is full of interesting and controversial contradictions. For example, on the one hand Zoltan Istvan is a philosophically sophisticated author using elements from Plato’s Republic, Nietzsche’s Overman (Übermensch), Thomas Moore’s Utopia, Zen Buddhism and other eastern and western philosophies. On the other hand Zoltan has chosen to give us a kind of simplistic, Atlas Shrugged-style of a plot in its black-and-white depiction of an evil government and the lone hero who dares to stand up to it. Regardless of my personal views, however, I enjoyed reading the book and believe that it does a good job of mapping out the dangerous period that our civilization will have to navigate in the next several decades.

During my interview with Zoltan Istvan we cover a variety of topics such as: what is the Transhumanist Wager; how and why he got interested in transhumanism; his protagonist Jethro Knights and some autobiographical elements of the novel; the potential for conflict between transhumanists and anti-transhumanists; Ayn Rand, objectivism and their impact on the Transhumanist Wager; competition, human nature and death; transhumanism and the technological singularity; the ideal state of Transhumania and the price we have to pay to accomplish it…

My favorite quote that I will take away from Zoltan Istvan is “Morality is often defined by the amount of time we have left.”

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Comment (47)

  1. I believe that in Jethro Knight's words from the book itself, one should simply be "following the most expedient path to immortality." Thus, any action in support of that is a good one – in terms of promoting that goal, and any action that diminishes or prolongs the path to immortality is a bad one…

  2. Very interesting conversation, one of the most vivid ones. I think novels about new techs don't get along because novels become obsolete, I mean for people born in the 80s, and especially in the 90s, reading without pictures becomes more & more difficult (don't say it's good or bad, it's just a natural consequence of being immersed in the virtual world). I sense paradoxes in the near future i.a. this kind of books will be read only by those who despise exponential growth of various technologies

  3. Why do you "detest" Ayn Rand's work, as you say at 23:55? I could understand disagreement with some of its elements, of course (I consider myself an Objectivist in the broad sense, but not in the narrow sense), but what leads you to detest it in particular? I see many transhumanist precursors in Rand, as I explain in my 2004 essay, "The Objectivist-Extropian Synthesis".

  4. It is a very long conversation, but in my view Ayn Rand was a hypocritical sociopath who came up with a simplistic black-and-white philosophy and did way more damage than good. Just one example, one of her intellectual heirs, Mr. Alan Greenspan had the guts to admit that he was absolutely wrong in most that he believed in for most of his life. He did look like a broken man when he said it too…

  5. Thank you for your response. I certainly hope that we will be able to have such a conversation someday, because my view of Rand is quite different. Certainly, she was flawed as a human being, and her philosophy is not complete, but I do see her as having inspired far more good than harm, from the standpoints of individual liberty and technological progress. As for Greenspan, while he was affiliated with her early on, he rejected that affiliation upon joining the Federal Reserve.

  6. Alan Greenspan didn't hesitate to apply and evangelize her teachings as a chairman of the Fed and 5 decades later had the guts to say that all that he did and believed in was demonstrated to be totally wrong!

  7. The Federal Reserve System has raised our real living standards over the past 100 years. The gold standard put an arbitrary Malthusian constraint on the American economy and kept it from producing at its full potential. Murray Rothbard admits that, because he argues that under the Austrian system, parents would have the right to starve their own children to death during the famines the gold standard would cause. Fiat money = a full stomach.

  8. We shouldn't base our lives on the fact that a Russian immigrant woman had a bad experience in the early days of the Soviet Union and wrote some lurid novels to try to present an anti-Bolshevism to Americans. Plenty of other Russian immigrants and their children had successful lives in the U.S. without advocating such extreme views. This immigration gave us Isaac Asimov, Vladimir Zworykin, Igor Sigorsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff and other worthwhile additions to the country's economy and culture.

  9. BTW, if Extropianism still impresses you, you really have fallen behind the times. I could see immediately why the Extropy Institute ceased to exist (Poof!) a few years ago: The people involved in it had reached middle age and realized that they would age and die after all, just like everyone else. This "accelerating change" nonsense doesn't correspond to medical and actuarial reality.

  10. That still leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Transhumanists have "promoted the goal" since the 1960's – refer to the aging writings of Bob Ettinger, F.M. Esfandiary, Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary, Alan Harrington and a few others – but we've gotten no further along to seeing this goal going mainstream. And we see a LOT of resistance coming from atheists, skeptics and humanists (for example PZ Myers), even though Zoltan presents religionists as the main opponents in his novel.

  11. So Americans had better living standards in 1913? I'd like to see you defend that claim. Today's fiat money can buy goods and services which didn't even exist as ideas in 1913, much less available on the market in exchange for gold. I can buy a three months' supply of generic prescription Lisinopril (an effective drug for hypertension) for $10, and that price hasn't gone up in three years despite all the foolish "dollar collapse" propaganda coming from Fed haters.

  12. Somewhat OT: If Keynes gave us bad advice because of his atheism, childlessness and irregular sex life, I wonder why many conservatives love that sterile, adulterous atheist Ayn Rand. Keynes said that in the long run we're all dead. Rand said that when SHE died, the universe would end. I don't seem much difference between the two ways of viewing "the future."

  13. Hi 1227z0r, Excellent. I'm a fan of some of Nietzsche's works and I applaud your dissertation. I'm actually jealous too. What a wonderful way to spend a few years. Feel free to contact me via email if you have any questions about my novel. My email is on my novel's website.
    Wishing you well, Zoltan

  14. That's great, thank you. The dissertation is for my final year in college. I'm actually trying to formulate a question that brings Nietzsche and transhumanism together; it's difficult, as I don't have much experience with either. As my thoughts become clearer, I'll contact you for more info regarding transhumanism (that I can't easily find answers for), as I'm only just getting familiar with it from a philosophical perspective. It's exciting stuff!

  15. As part of your research you can see some of my other interviews with people such as Natasha Vita-More, Max More, Guilio Prisco and others where you will find tons of references for furthering your studies…

  16. Human nature is all around us, the fact that we do not find the equilibrium with our surroundings and strive for new things and concepts and keep asking why. This is also exactly this human nature we are trying to procreate in with our AI ideas. I think the Human nature/condition is a very solid concept and by understanding it's existence we can make a much better progress with regards to all other systems around us, such as nature, who is not interested in progress in a short run as we are 🙂

  17. Good we have people like Roman Yampolsky working and contemplating on security issues. This is regards technological and biological singularity. We definitely need more open minded debate in this area. I do agree with Zoltan, that we should focus on immortality, but be careful of "All in approach". Thanks for your work Nikola!

  18. Great interview. You can tell you come prepared for these interviews, but at the same time you are actively listening and ask interesting questions and converse when appropriate. All interviewers do not do this, and it is important. I look forward to more of your videos. Liked/Subscribed.

  19.  Very  interesting  ….  think  humans  will advance themselves  on  a  grand  scale.  Robots   too , will  be  the  in  thing  as  companions for  some..  exciting  ..I  agree   with  Lorraine.

  20. @Nikola Danaylov
    "Morality is defined by amount of time we have left to live," is what Zoltan said. "Morality is derived from the amount of time we have left" is what you said

    I don't agree that morality is DERIVED from the amount of time we have left to live, as that gives the impression that each individuals life experience wouldn't factor into what their moral compass would look like. That gives the impression that two people who died at the same age (they had the same amount of life to live) would have ended up with the same morals at death. That's not logical. Or that two people given the prognosis of death in 2 months would adhere to the same morals even though one might decide to go out partying and drinking his life away, while the other might spend ever second with their family. It could be one or the other. Morality is not derived from the amount of time we have left.

    However, I agree that our individual moralites can be influenced by the amount of time we have left to live. I do not believe that it is the only, or even the main influencing factor. I feel our individual experiences draw up what our individual moral compasses will look like more than anything else. Whatever we hear, see, feel, touch, smell, throughout our lives and how we interpret that based on our previous experiences is what shapes our morality.

    Morals are centered around ones own feelings and thoughts about certain issues. It is our feelings and emotions that need to be addressed more so that we can fine tune our worldly conscious moral compass to help create a world where everyone is happy and doing what their inner most heart desires.

  21. The protagonist from the book, Jethro Knights, somehow reminds me of a character from another novel – Henry Bowman from John Ross's Unintended Consequences. The two books are different thematically and philosophically, but also have many touching points – rise of tyrannical government, persecution of freedom loving citizens who just want to be left alone, revolution, larger than life character driven to do extreme things in extreme circumstances.

  22. If you merely "have a view" that a person is a sociopath, maybe you should keep it to yourself unless you have hard evidence. How would you like if someone spread notions like that about you??

    Ayn Rand was a hero, who lived a happy life and has helped millions to do the same.

  23. I just read Zoltan's book. Interesting that right now Donald Trump is running for President. Suddenly a world with State Religion banning Transhumanism, is not at all far-fetched. His book should be read by more young people. Dangerous times ahead!

  24. I also pretty much admired the hero of the book until near the end where there were some very extreme ideas suggestive of just letting the poor, weak, disabled, uncompetitive etc people just basically die, with no healthcare or any basics of life (also, letting police dole out summary justice and shoot people on sight!). But I'm glad you asked him about it and he explained that it's not what he would like, and he would prefer cooperation… I think that compassion and care for others and helping those who are weaker and unfortunate is a good thing, and don't like pure survival of the fittest. I also would think that a transhuman future would enable everyone to have the basics for health and a certain level of comfort, for example with a universal basic income system, or maybe just abolishing money altogether at some point when real abundance is achieved. I think that not having to worry about basics would actually free people up more to do more creative and interesting things with their lives, not necessarily lead to stagnation and unproductivity. Then of course at some point we will probably modify ourselves too to have superintelligence..

  25. I do agree with the book that medieval superstitions are holding humanity back, if not least because they go against rational thinking, and also comfort people with fanciful claims of afterlives in heaven, or bodies being raised from the dead at the end times, instead of encouraging them to make this one as wonderful as possible using our reason and creativity.

  26. I agree with the goals of transhumanism, but someone said to me recently that it's the wrong term, because improving ourselves, going beyond what was possible before, has always been what humans have done. It's just that it's accelerating. But we'll still be humans, not 'trans' humans. I don't know what you think of that argument?

  27. Zoe seems to represent just 'going with the flow', but it seems to me that 'going with the flow' or 'trusting the universe' presupposes that someone the universe wants what's best for us. Whereas it seems to me it's completely indifferent to our happiness. So I guess Jethro's rationality and fight to create the reality that he wants, is more 'sensible'. But I did like that the book had that interplay between those different ideas, and sometimes 'accepting', 'letting things be' etc… can have an appeal. I have one friend who has believed very much in that in her life, and she's a lovely, sensitive, artistic person, but I'm not convinced it's done her that much good because materially she's struggled in a lot of ways and seems to have missed opportunities that a more hard-headed person would have taken. Also, in later life she now believes very much in accepting death as part of a natural cycle, rather than 'raging against the dying of the light'. But then again, maybe for an older person that still makes sense, seeing that robust life extension medicine might be 10, 20, 30… years off :-/

  28. This will make us less and less involved with the entirety of humanity and the system that sustains us .
    More and more open to abuse with a centralised elite more and more capable of switching us off at will. The end of community and the death of the individual. Please do not let it happen and chose life.
    There is no question that way lies enslavement and utter vulnerability .

  29. I invite all the goats to line up for transhumanism and experience the unbearable suffering it entails to get to their utopian everlasting life… nature and life are perfection in their process, nothing that man tries to create will EVER come close to be superior to divine creation. Instead of working in harmony with life, transhumanists believe they can play God. Well good for them, they can pay the price of their arrogance: Upload your consciousness outside of your physical body and tell me how it feels to be an eternal cyborg. Just fake tits or hip replacement feel odd and uncomfortable, imagine transhumanism… It must feel like shit!!!!!! I'm sticking to the appreciation of the gift of life and a spiritual communion with God. I'm out!

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