Sergey Pereslegin, Researcher, fiction and alternate history theorist: "Project 2045 also requires enormous engineering support. And I would claim that both for Russia and for the entire world, the only possibility of overcoming the phase barrier is not to solve biological tasks, not biotechnology, but to solve the task for maintaining engineering for the critical period of 20 years".
Essentially, the entire question that I believe is fundamentally important is the question of the evolution of the human being. I must say right away that I do not classify myself as a transhumanist at all, for I believe that the human part of history is far from over. Nevertheless, I am deeply grateful to the people who organized this forum, not least because for the first time they have seriously raised the question of the next stage of human evolution.
There are three positions. Some people say that human beings will develop as a biological species. Some say that biological evolution is over, and that a stage of social evolution will begin – a concept which ultimately goes back to Marx. And finally, there is the position, which is very popular among the Americans at present, that the zone of modern development is primarily technological evolution.
The most interesting thing is that these three approaches are not only not mutually exclusive, but they are all part of the same approach, for as soon as we start to realize that reason is the biological adaptive quality of a certain species, then we understand that social and technological evolution for mankind is at the same time biological evolution. And in this sense, the issue about what will happen to this species in coming historical eras is interesting and important. The most interesting thing is that we as a society are facing a very curious challenge and an extremely important temptation. The fact of the matter is that as we encounter a whole series of social problems, we hope – and this is expressed very clearly in the language of a number of American dream factories, it is expressed in the statements by a number of Russian specialists – we hope that we will be able to deal with these problems through technological development, and in particular, through changing the human being.
And if we look at it, we will see that we do not have one, not two and not three versions of changing the human being. Firstly, there is a concept that I am developing very strictly, that for the modern world, a loss of human individuality is characteristic, and a clear transition from individual to collective thinking. This accordingly is the human-machine system, machines, in which the human being is an element. I would ask you not to confuse this with crowd-sourcing – it is quite different.
There is a viewpoint that we should also change the human being biologically, and that we can do this using modern biotechnologies. Here, mankind is held back by a very curious, but extremely simple trap. Most people believe that an animal is much more complex than a plant, and a person is much more complex than an animal. At the same time, it is easy to understand that a plant is an example of biological high-tech, and if we have learnt to work with the genome of plants and the genome of bacteria, working with the genome and the human being is in fact not more difficult, but much simpler. And we are only held back by inertia of thinking here. As soon as this comes to an end, we will gain a very interesting mechanism for the fundamental transformation of the human being: both for future generations – that’s relatively well-known, just as for the present generation – work with stem cells has begun. This problem has been theoretically solved, in my opinion. A solution is in fact not far away – it is just a question of 10-20 years at most. If, of course, the social objections are not too strong. And they will be strong.
There is another viewpoint, an alternative one, which is even better, this is, of course, when we use nanotechnologies, nano-simbiotes, nano-cyborgization. How does this differ from the previous picture? From the outward viewpoint, it is still a human being. But from the real, information system viewpoint it is a complex simbiote. It differs even more from a human being than in the initial biological model, but these differences can be concealed.
In conclusion, is that we can obtain a solution for a whole range of problems by both methods, and achieve universal health and practical immortality. And in this sense, the tasks that are set by Project 2045, and the tasks of the transhumanists, in my opinion, are absolutely resolvable. But I had reason to call all of this a temptation. The problem that arises here is not technological or even social, but strictly ontological. Humanity was formed on three basic contradictions.
The first of these is the contradiction between life and death. This is the feeling that I – a human being, living, reasoning, regarding myself as something separate from the rest of the world, am finished in time and must die. The contradiction of “living and dead” was intolerable, and naturally it was not solved in any way, and humanity had to think up hyper projects… Why “hyper”? Because a mega-project is much smaller in scale… which could solve this contradiction.
Only two such hyperprojects have been found. They are quite obvious to everyone. Firstly, it is clear that the contradiction of “life and death” is removed by the act of birth. This, in fact, explains the attitude in almost all cultures to the mother, the cult of the mother and the cult of the infant. This is part of the way to remove the basic contradiction. But for the woman, this works, while for the man it practically does not. And almost every society, in fact every society in some form or another comes up with the concept of creativity. Remember, the main task of creativity is to make the non-living come alive. The myth of Pygmalion in Greece, there is a similar myth among the Turkic peoples; an important aspect in the category of Islam is that a person who tries to create the depiction of the human body is obliged to bring it to life – this is competing with the Creator. The idea that creativity is a form of turning the dead into the living is undoubtedly a solution of the contradiction, and this is what has made the entire history of our culture.
But the human being would not be a human being, a being that is intelligent, aggressive and adaptable, if we did not find another solution. The other solution is the opposite. This is murder, of course. And not murder in general, but murder of another person – the bearer of reason equal to yourself, and according to certain rules – otherwise this would be comme il faut. As you may easily guess, this is the concept of ritual murder, from which the concept of war later arose.
The secondary contradiction between murder and creativity was removed by the concept of faith as personal salvation. A balance arose – the triangle of contradictions, the accumulation of social energy, and all of our history in the following eras was a sort of development of this balance. Here is a rigid claim: with the appearance of immortality, we will lose the need for war, the need for culture, the need for faith and salvation, i.e. Christianity, and language will become significantly reduced. I would make the rigid claim that Tolkien’s Elves could not have a great culture for the simple reason that culture in itself, as we people understand it, is the consequence of our mortality.
But please don’t draw the conclusion from what I say that I am categorically against the idea of immortality, and that we should never take this path. I am talking about something else. As soon as we solve this issue, humanity as we know it, will disappear, and a different biological species will arise – a species that is rational, linked to us genetically, with other qualities. It may be much better than what we have now. But we, at least, must clearly understand that for our species and our worldview, or rather the sum of all the worldviews we know about – this means the end.
Stanislaw Lem, in his novel “Return from the Stars”, described betrization, which removes human aggression and the desire to kill. This is also a solution within the same contradiction, but a much weaker one. Nevertheless, if you remember, the betrized world turned out to be completely different than the modern world, and its creation was accompanied by very serious upheavals.
Incidentally, I hope that everyone hear understands that essentially, the attempt to move to this world as an obligatory undertaking should be blocked by mechanisms of social stability. According to our scenario, it is inevitable that an inquisition will arise, and as Maxim Kalashnikov predicted, we will experience Dark Ages – strangely enough, this will not involve universal stupidity, but the terrifying battle of homo sapiens and homo ludens on the same territory, which is a rather limited one. It is clear that you won’t kill humanity with this, but there will be plenty of problems.
I cannot avoid mentioning in passing that another two problems are also connected with the centuries-old dream of humanity. The second contradiction on which the homo species is built is the contradiction of “space – time”. Space, which was initially perceived as infinite, and time, which was always perceived as finished. Two important concepts are also built on this. But if creativity and murder are more or less well balanced, in this sense the balance was made a long time ago, the concept of civilization as forms of victory over space and the concept of non-civilization, or strangeness, as forms of victory over time are not balanced, for everything strange is primitive shamanistic cultures, not one of them has risen to a civilized level. Although there were chances. For example, in the United States of America in the late 19th – early 20th century, it was possible to build this civilized structure. From this viewpoint, I would say, the second great invention after immortality – zero-transportation, teleportation, zero-T, whatever you want to call it – will also lead to the destruction of humanity as we know it, and the forms in which we are accustomed to see it existing.
I would note in passing that there is also a third important contradiction. This is a contradiction between the part and the whole, or if you like between the person and society. Here Christianity, Buddhism, Islam to a certain extent, and certainly Marxism and communism tried to remove this contradiction, to solve it, to find a situation when it was completely liquidated, and build an ideal society. And again, we see that building an ideal society is the end of the homo species.
To return to the beginning, I would say the following: for me it is extremely important that in this hall, in Russia, at this conference for the first time the question has been raised that the disappearance of this species and the move to the next stage of its development may be a question of a present-day specific technological and strategic planning. We have made the approach that this question can really be solved. Unfortunately, from my point of view, in all the projects that are connected with homo ludens or homo novus, the ontological component is completely missed out, and so, with a clear understanding that we are winning by realizing these projects, we do not always admit that we may lose out by realizing them.
When the First World War began, there is a very good old story, half a joke, half for real, when one chancellor asks another: “How did it all start?” And he got the answer: “Oh, if only I knew!” This is a moment that it is extremely important to avoid.
On the other hand, if we do nothing and do not move in any direction, then the result may be even worse. Essentially, the issue is the following – it is what I call the cognitive phase of the development of humanity. Is the cognitive phase possible with the old person, i.e. homo sapiens sapiens, or does the cognitive phase require the imperative change of the person and the creation of homo ludens, or homo novus in different versions?
In my opinion, this issue cannot yet be solved in the logic of homo sapiens. We must not take such drastic actions in order to build the next phase of development. At the same time, we must remember the following important thing. Realistically, I wanted to use this presentation only not to draw up timelines, because they are large and it takes a long time to draw them, and there is nothing to draw them on, but I will have to try to draw them in the space of words and thought. Any phase transition, and this is very precisely described in sociology (by the phase transitions to the Neolithic and the ancient world) and in biology, in strategy theory, and even in age psychology – any such transition that is a system transition is subordinated to the same rules: intensive development, and a drastic stop of this development – what I call the post-industrial barrier, in our case the encounter with a barrier, and the UN called it the concept of the stable development of humanity.
Please note that every time that you encounter resistance, a barrier, your development stops, and then you are told about stable development, that you cannot be future-dependent – everyone remembers the article from the end of 2011, and so on and so on. In reality, this is just an attempt to put a good face on a bad situation. The slowing down period never lasts for long, it always ends with the situation completely losing its stability – intensive fluctuations begin. Incidentally, why are these fluctuations a good thing? Perhaps they indicate local development – very fast and intensive. But there are always more drops than there are rises. The fluctuating curve of development lies on a general downtrend.
We already entered this stage between 2001 and 2008, the first crisis, when three full fluctuations took place. Can this continue indefinitely? This is an interesting question. The Romans, without understanding anything about what was happening or how it was happening, managed to keep the situation in this fluctuating balance for 300 years. And over these 300 years, they allowed for new social institutions to be formed, primarily the Catholic church.
But usually, such catastrophes take place much more quickly. Sooner or later, one of the basic infrastructures collapses. When it collapses, then society swiftly falls into the Dark Ages. After this, the Dark Ages exist for a certain time. Do you know what’s good about bad results? They don’t get any worse. 300-400 years won’t destroy humanity – and then new growth will begin. The problem is that the new growth may be the growth of a new phase of development, as was the case in Rome, or it may lead to the repetition of what has already happened, to the endless repetition of what was already taken place in history, as for example was the case in the Dark Ages after the Trojan War in the catastrophe of Ancient Greece. Various scenarios are possible here.
The most interesting task for us here is the following: can the moment of falling be eliminated, and can we move from a descending curve to a rising curve – to the start of the creation of a new phase? In my opinion, this is the idea behind Project 2045. This is an interesting situation. Biologists firmly state: no, this is impossible on principle. Psychologists say: this is not only possible, this is in fact our job, we work with young people, with children who experience age crises, with people in mid-life crises. To avoid the time of the Dark Ages, to avoid the moment of falling, to start new development – this is a normal technique, we are capable of doing this. What do the strategists say? Theoretically, this possibility exists in strategy, but throughout the entire rich military history of humanity, it was only realized twice. So these chances exist, but they are close to zero. What do sociologists say? That this has never happened. But it can also not be proven that it is impossible.
This makes the present day extremely interesting. But here I would like to add some very important things to Project 2045. The Russian army convincingly showed in 1914 that without defending yourself from the flank threat to the country in East Prussia, you cannot attack Berlin – it’s simply not possible. Project 2045 also requires enormous engineering support. And I would claim that both for Russia and for the entire world, the only possibility of overcoming the phase barrier is not to solve biological tasks, not biotechnology, but to solve the task for maintaining engineering for the critical period of 20 years.
I’d like to conclude the remaining seconds of my speech with a joke from the Internet: Google says: “I can find everything”, Wikipedia says, “I know everything”, the Internet quietly says: “You’re nothing without me”, and then the electricity comes along and says: “Shut up, jerks!” (Laughter, applause).