Question Everything: Max More on Singularity 1 on 1

by Socrates on March 20, 2011

Today my guest on Singularity 1 on 1 is transhumanist strategic philosopher Max More. (As always you can listen to or download the audio file above or scroll down and watch the video interview in full.)

As the CEO of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation Dr. More has a full schedule. Never-the-less he generously managed to squeeze in two 30 min interview sessions in his busy day.

During our conversation we discuss issues such as: Max’s early life and childhood heroes; his interest in economics, political science and philosophy; transhumanism and extropy; the proactinary and precautionary principles; cryonics and the Alcor Foundation; his Paleo diet and exercise regimen; why it is important to question everything (and especially yourself).

To find more about Max More visit his web site here.

My favorite quote from Max More:

“No more gods, no more faith, no more timid holding back. Let us blast out of our old forms, our ignorance, our weakness, and our mortality. The future belongs to posthumanity.”

My favorite short articles: A Letter to Mother Nature; The Proactionary Principle; Transhumanism: Towards A Futurist Philosophy

What others have said about Max:

Ray Kurzweil: “Max More’s ideas are very influential among other “big thinkers,” who in turn are influence leaders themselves. Max’s writings represent well grounded science futurism, and reflect a sophisticated understanding of technology trends and how these trends are likely to develop during this coming century.”

Marvin Minsky: “the father of artificial intelligence”, said of Dr. More: “We have a dreadful shortage of people who know so much, can both think so boldly and clearly, and can express themselves so articulately. Carl Sagan was another such one—and  (partly by paying the price of his life) managed to capture the public eye. But Sagan is gone and has not been replaced. I see Max as my candidate for that post.”

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  • CMStewart

    “What were these people thinking?!”

    Absolutely! People will risk their lives running into a burning building to save a stranger, but in essence, will shrug off the crisis of of millions of people- even themselves and their loved ones- dying of age-related diseases.

    I think ancient people were less fearful for their lives because the possibility of being killed was always immediate, and simply a part of existence. Now with many more people living in much safer environments, the possibility of being killed is not as immediate, and not accepted as a day-to-day part of living. That is why pervasive fear is a modern phenomenon.

    Hmm . . brain-only preservation? I try to imagine my severed head in a freezer and I get squeamish. Waking up and realizing I was a head would be more than a little disturbing. lol Granted, if I did a whole-body preservation- and survived- there’s a good chance I’d have to upgrade to a new or different body anyway- because of damage, or just to “fit in” with my new (to me) environment.

    Great point, Nikola, about the difference between spending money on a burial plot and tombstone, and spending money on cryonic preservation. lol Economics 101.

    I don’t really understand the Paleolithic diet as a reasonable practice for today. But I know a lot of educated, intelligent people follow it. Personally, I’m not going to eat animals just because my ancestors ate them. Same with people. If my ancestors were cannibals, I wouldn’t follow suit and eat people. And now whole grains are bad? How perplexing. I’d rather eat whole grains than support factory farming or any kind of slaughter of sentient beings.

  • Max

    Whole grains contain anti-nutrients that block absorption of nutrients. They may also contain gluten and other problematic substances. For an overview of the paleo approach and links to resources, see:

    — Max

  • Socrates

    Cynthia raised another good point Max:

    what about the ethical impact of eating high-protein meat products? What about farming animals and animal suffering?

  • CMStewart
  • CMStewart

    “Golden Girls” sitcom spoof on cryonics:

  • CMStewart

    Thank you for directing me to your Alcor site, I appreciate that. I read the Paleo information, and copied the links for further reading.

    My first impression is the diet contradicts almost everything I’ve read and seen about a healthy diet. For example, I once knew a person who went on an all-meat diet for a year. Within the year he developed gout, and now walks with a cane. And I’ve read countless articles promoting the benefits of every grain under the Sun.

    Our primitive ancestors used to be thinner and taller? (I thought they were bulkier and shorter.) I’m very thin and tall. Does that mean I’d become even thinner on a Paleo diet? There’d be nothing left of me.

    But my main consideration is the ethics of eating animals. Personally, I can’t fathom rewarding the slaughter of a sentient being just to fill my stomach. You could argue that it’s perfectly natural to hunt and eat animals- many animals in the wild do this. And I do see the point about people being genetically adapted to meat-eating. Although, come to think of it, I thought meat-eating was a relatively new phenomena in the evolutionary lead-up to Homo sapiens. I thought our lack of long canine teeth and our relatively long digestive tracks bared this out. ??

    If it were reasonably easy to be a vegan Paleo, I might consider it. Or maybe when they grow lab meat that doesn’t make my stomach turn. (Actually, I really hope the lab meat takes off. That would stop a staggering amount of animal abuse, torture, and murder.)

    I know I’m in the minority regarding animal rights; and I’m glad you found a diet that works for you. Thanks again for your information.

  • Socrates

    Great questions Cynthia,I also supposedly care a lot about animal rights but apparently not enough to be vegetarian… Anyway, I’d love to see what Max says in reply, provided he has the chance to do so. By the way, there is a Canadian transhumanist called George Dvorsky who is also an animal rights activist. During my interview with him I did ask him the question and he replied that he is indeed vegetarian. You can listen to the interview here:
    Singularity Podcast: George Dvorsky on Transhumanism and the Singularity

  • Socrates

    That’s funny. “Didn’t you tip the guy?!”

    The talking heads remind me of one of the first sci fi novels that I’ve read by Alexandr Belyayev titled “Professor Dowell’s Head,” which was amazingly written in 1925 but is right on topic.

  • Max

    If you’re going to eat meat for your own well-being, then paleo has the ethical advantage. It strongly favors grass-fed animals (much better ratio of N-3 to N-6 fatty acids) which are allowed to roam rather than being caged and fed grain, which fattens them and makes them ill.

  • Max

    In addition to my previous brief reply on the topic of the ethics of eating animals, I want to add this: Since I’m following a paleo-inspired diet and NOT attempting “paleo-reenactment”, I be happy to switch from real animal food to entirely synthetic equivalent food, so long as it was genuily equivalent, vat-grown or otherwise synthesized food.

    In the meantime, I value my health and longevity and will eat animal foods. Happily, as I noted, the paleo diet strongly prefers animals that are raised in freer environments where they can range and eat grass, rather than being confined and fed grain, etc.

    Remember that most of these animals would not come into existence if they were not bred for food. So long as they are allowed to have a life and are then killed quickly and minimally painfully, I don’t see that they are getting a bad deal even from a utilitarian perspective. (And I’m not a utilitarian.)

    But if anyone decides they would rather avoid eating animals, instead choosing a diet that (in my view) is considerably inferior for health and longevity, that is obviously their choice and to be respected. Many of my good friends are vegetarians! So long as they extend me the same respect, there’s no problem.

  • Socrates

    I agree with most of what you say Max with one qualification:

    “Remember that most of these animals would not come into existence if they were not bred for food. So long as they are allowed to have a life and are then killed quickly and minimally painfully, I don’t see that they are getting a bad deal even from a utilitarian perspective. (And I’m not a utilitarian.)”

    This seems to be a rather teleological argument with serious problems. For example, you don’t meant to say that if we breed human clones for organs (or whatever other purposes) it will be OK for us to slaughter them, since they would not have come into existence otherwise, provided that we kill them quickly and minimally painfully and give them free movement within a 5 star resort?! Since I don’t think you would say that the above scenario I am quoting is something that you would approve of, I am surprised that you are using a similar justification for animal slaughter.

    …but then again, who am I to say anything against your justification if I would certainly enjoy a nice personal discussion with you over a steak and a glass of nice red wine… My justification is that perhaps I haven’t found the discipline to become a vegetarian…

  • CMStewart

    Yes, I listened to that one awhile back. Thanks for the link, I just now re-listened to part of it. I know Dvorsky from Twitter, am a fan of his blog (Sentient Developments), and I am in full agreement with his positions on animal rights. I believe that in a framework of intellectual honesty, you can’t begin to address transhuman and AI rights without also addressing animal rights. To borrow a phrase from my Western upbringing, sentient beings have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” IMO.

  • CMStewart

    OK I’ve got to find that one!

  • CMStewart

    “My justification is that perhaps I haven’t found the discipline to become a vegetarian.”

    @Socrates I grew up in a meat-eating household and I went through periods of vegetarianism in childhood and early adulthood. The final nail in the coffin of eating meat was when I read about and watched videos of how animals are bred, kept, and slaughtered in the factory-farming industry, and even in the so-called “humane” farms. And it’s not just meat- the demand for factory-farmed milk and eggs is responsible for the torture of countless animals everyday. The articles and videos exposing this abuse are readily available online. You get have to work up the nerve to read and watch. I did, years ago, and now am mostly vegan. The rare exception is, for example, if my husband orders meat at a restaurant and doesn’t finish it, I will eat it rather than allow it to be buried in a landfill. Killing an animal just to bury it is infinitely more shameful than killing it to eat it.

    Again, I’m not begrudging anybody their choices in diet, and I don’t expect people to begrudge my choices (though they do). I’m just pointing out the reality of eating meat and meat products.

  • Socrates

    I am not sure if the book has been translated in English but it may be worth checking…

  • Socrates

    …I remember seeing “Fast Food Nation” which has some pretty graphic images… Yet, I must be either too selfish or too thick-skinned for it didn’t seem to have lasting effects…

  • CMStewart

    @Socrates I am thick-skinned too, but only in regards to myself. I am profoundly affected by the graphic descriptions, pictures, and videos of animal abuse. Even seeing pics of *rescued* lab animals makes me cry. The irony is as an animal rights activist, I do occasionally catch glimpses of these pictures and videos, no matter how carefully I try to filter them out of my email and TV viewing. And when I catch a glimpse I am often paralyzed with horror of the reality of what I am seeing, and I can’t look away until the image is gone. The amount and severity of animal abuse in the world is hellish. I often wish I wasn’t affected so much, at times I feel overwhelmed. Those who can shrug it off are lucky, IMO.

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