2013-01-04

Anxiety, workaholism and transhumanism

Max More, CEO of Alcor and noted transhumanist writer, sent me an e-mail last month that left me concerned about a possible epidemic of anxiety and workaholism within the transhumanist community. He wrote:
If you are actively working to bringing about technological advance, then clearly you are not a "passive singularitarian". 
For what my opinion is worth (and I've extensively studied practical psychology, especially cognitive therapy), I strongly agree that "should" thoughts are emotionally and psychologically dangerous. [...] I'm concerned that Singularity-thinking can be a strong source of "should" thinking.
I share Max's concerns. Many transhumanists have probably been harmed by "should" thinking, as I was; and those of us on the autism spectrum are likely to suffer from anxiety without knowing it (more on that in my next post). I hope that by making my own battle with anxiety public, I can open a much-needed dialogue.


Before the e-mail, I'd recently started therapy. One of the first pieces of advice I'd been given was to find and question all the "I should" statements in my life. Could transhumanism be a source of "shoulds"? Ray Kurzweil had written in The Singularity Is Near that "I share More's antipathy toward 'passive Singularitarianism'." This led me to the statement "I should not be a passive Singularitarian", which I now knew needed questioning. A Google search later, I was reading Max More's 2002 interview with Ray Kurzweil, and e-mailing Max in the hope he might clarify his position.

The above-quoted reply leads me to conclude that Singularitarianism (and probably other branches of transhumanism as well) can lead not only to passivity, but also to workaholism and anxiety that are the opposite extreme and just as destructive. Kurzweil said in a recent interview with Hal Niedzviecki:
When I ask Mr. Kurzweil what the average individual should do to prepare for this purportedly radical shift, the answer is tellingly familiar: “If you find yourselves having a passion,” he says, “it could be music or journalism or history or any subject, pursue that – those are the areas that are going to become enhanced.”
My answers to that question would have been very different, had anyone ever asked me. Keep up with the science and tech headlines. Read, watch or play some science fiction. Be an early adopter. Go into a science or engineering career if you have half an aptitude for one. Update your antivirus software.

I'm probably not the only person for whom transhumanism has meant carrying much of the world's weight on our shoulders, and hauling it up an exponential curve until we reach the mountain peak (insert lame "Singularity Summit" pun here). What's the best way to reconcile our transhumanism with balanced lives and healthy minds?
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