First published by Brightly Magazine
Date: April 2022

Transhumanism and the End of Suffering


BM: How would you describe your research? What kind of difficulties have you encountered?

David Pearce: How can we fix the problem of suffering? How can we design a new architecture of mind with a civilised signalling system: life animated entirely by gradients of bliss? How can we extend a biohappiness revolution to the rest of the living world? How can we create a transhumanist “triple S” civilization of superintelligence, superlongevity and superhappiness for all sentient beings?

The technical challenges of designing – let alone implementing – the blueprint for a happy transhuman biosphere are formidable. But the most daunting obstacles I’ve encountered are ethical-ideological and – above all – status quo bias. For a world without suffering will entail genome reform. Most of humanity still favours the traditional genetic crapshoot of sexual reproduction. The results are inevitable. Darwinian life is “designed” by natural selection to suffer. Sexual selection is no different. A predisposition to suffer “makes us human”. Discontent is adaptive. Jealousy and envy are adaptive. Competitive-status seeking is adaptive. Counting your blessings is maladaptive. So the negative feedback-mechanisms of the hedonic treadmill are highly fitness-enhancing. Environmental tinkering, such as socio-political reform, can’t tackle the root of the problem: our vicious DNA. And here’s the rub. Most people, including most bioethicists, still balk at the germline engineering needed to eradicate physical and mental pain for good. Genome reform is “unnatural”, we’re told. Humans shouldn’t “play God”; it’s hubris. Such bioconservatism is understandable. Countless things could go wrong with ill-considered genetic interventions. The ramifications of universal access to preimplantation genetic screening and counselling – and soon base-edited “designer babies” – are poorly understood. Yet what is the alternative to genome reform? All the products of sexual reproduction today are untested genetic experiments. Choosing benign dial-settings for pain tolerance, hedonic set-points and hedonic range will at least load the genetic dice in our children’s favour. If intelligent moral agents don’t edit their genetic source code, then involuntary misery and malaise will persist indefinitely.
I think 540 million years of suffering is enough.

BM: Do you struggle? Or enjoy life?

David Pearce: Personally? I struggle. Darwinian life is sentient malware. Evoking our glorious posthuman future is a reminder of the cruel suffering endured by Darwinian life-forms – and of my own humdrum existence. By the lights of our successors, all Darwinian life is anhedonic, brain-damaged and dysfunctional. The contrast with future transhuman paradise is stark. What’s more, I know that I almost certainly won’t live to see the promised land of post-Darwinian life – or at least, not before my elderly namesake enters the cryonic suspension tank a few decades from now. The reason I work on the abolitionist project is the hope that future generations won’t have to suffer as we do.

BM: What is the extent of the knowledge of transhumanism you think the people in the globe do have? How can we increase the interest of the people in the globe towards the topic of transhumanism?

David Pearce: Most people have some acquaintance with broadly “transhumanist” technologies, even if they aren’t familiar with the transhumanist movement – or even the name “transhumanism”. But compared to organised religion, we’re still quite marginal. And even among folk who are familiar with transhumanist ideas, different definitions of the transhumanist project abound. Transhumanists differ among ourselves! That said, I like to quote the radically transhumanist vision enshrined in the founding constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO) – “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” The WHO is committed to complete physical, mental and social well-being for everyone – about as transhumanist a credo as you can imagine! What’s more, every member of the United Nations also signs up to the WHO. The practical difference between the WHO and contemporary transhumanism is that transhumanists urge using the tools that can deliver the WHO vision. Otherwise, the WHO constitution is just pious sentiments and empty words. For no sentient being in evolutionary history has yet been healthy as defined by the WHO. No sentient being could be healthy with an unreformed Darwinian genome. Strictly speaking, maybe the WHO commitment to health is too ambitious. Rather than complete well-being, I urge engineering life animated by information-sensitive gradients of lifelong bliss – not “complete” health, perhaps, but something close enough.

BM: What do you think about the truth, goodness, and beauty of the science?

David Pearce:
1) Truth?
Well, I think the mathematical machinery of physics exhaustively describes the world (cf. In A Nutshell). No “element of reality” is missing from the formalism of (tomorrow’s) theoretical physics. All the special sciences (molecular biology, chemistry etc) reduce to physics. Hence the technological success story of modern civilisation. But currently, science does not understand how to interpret the formalism of quantum field theory and the nature of reality – from the mystery of why anything exists at all to spooky quantum entanglement to the measurement problem in the foundations of quantum mechanics: The Measurement Problem in QM Worse, scientific materialism cannot explain the existence, varieties, phenomenal binding and causal efficacy of consciousness, i.e. the entirety of the empirical (“relating to experience”) evidence. That said, I believe physicalism is most likely true. The mathematical straitjacket of the Standard Model constrains our theorising about the essential nature of the world’s fundamental quantum fields. But the intrinsic nature of the physical – the mysterious “fire” in the equations – differs from our classical materialist intuitions. Quantum field theory may not describe what we ordinarily suppose, i.e. fields of insentience. If QFT does describe fields of insentience, then we face the insoluble Hard Problem of consciousness. In my view, what makes animal minds like ours special is the phenomenal binding of fields of qualia into trillions of skull-bound egocentric virtual worlds of experience – what perceptual naïve realists call the external world: Quantum mind

2) Goodness?
Scientific knowledge can be used to manufacture everything from thermonuclear weapons, slaughterhouses and gas chambers to the molecular substrates of heaven-on-earth. Although scientific knowledge is morally neutral, such neutrality doesn’t mean that scientists should be morally neutral. Thus thermonuclear weapons, slaughterhouses and gas chambers should never be designed or built, let alone used. I trust that AI and biotechnology can instead be harnessed to make experience below hedonic zero literally inconceivable.

3) Beauty?
If you have a mathematical bent, then you may find the equations of physics beautiful – though the Standard Model (the mathematical formalism that unifies electromagnetism, the weak force and the strong force but omits gravity) is actually a mess. Likewise, a diet of David Attenborough wildlife propaganda documentaries can inspire love of the beauties of the animal kingdom – until you reflect that life on Earth is pain-ridden Darwinian malware: Nature is a monstrous snuff movie. The upshot of natural selection is ugly beyond words. Darwinian evolution is a remorseless engine of suffering – and most insidiously, of spreading endogenous opioid addiction: we’re all hooked. However, a scientific understanding of the world promises the molecular tools to engineer paradise. Life could be more beautiful than anything physiologically conceivable today. But such a regime of superhuman beauty is feasible only if we rewrite our sinister genetic source code. The world’s last ugly experience can be an event a few centuries from now, a watershed in the evolutionary development of life.

BM: What is your expectation for BLTC research? Why?

David Pearce: BLTC research is a group of like-minded people who share the vision of a living world based exclusively on gradients of intelligent bliss – in short, paradise engineering. I’d love to report that BLTC is spearheading a mass movement to reprogram the biosphere - and we’ll all live happily after. Alas, any such story would be an extravagant flight of fantasy. We’re too few and too scattered. Perhaps our best hope is to lobby the WHO to live up to its statutory obligations and avowed mission. I’d love to see a grand Hundred Year Plan to defeat the biology of suffering under the auspices of the WHO. Fitful progress via piecemeal improvement is more likely. Realistically, I think centuries of pain and suffering still lie ahead – perhaps longer. Also, today’s crude technologies (CRISPR genome-editing etc) will soon seem quaint. Good. Humans are just stepping-stones to something better – something inconceivably sublime.

BM: You have outlined how drugs and technology can end suffering of all sentient life. In reality, will the over-development of drugs and technology give the negative impact on the human? Why do you say that?

David Pearce: Therapeutic drugs and medicines are just a stopgap. Many of today’s remedial therapies have adverse side-effects. There’s no evidence that today’s default levels of average subjective well-being / ill-being differ significantly from our ancestors on the African savannah. The only long-term solution to the problem of suffering is genome reform. Good health should be hardwired. I’m not as starry-eyed as I may sound about the prospect of hedonic uplift. Innumerable things can (and probably will) go wrong as humans claw our way out of the abyss. Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and the movie “Gattaca” are fictional dystopian scenarios that spring to mind. The early twentieth-century eugenics movement is a real-life case study of misplaced idealism. Yet what follows from these dark forebodings? Bioconservative critics of transhumanism favour retaining our existing genomes: Nature (supposedly) knows best. The creator of the first CRISPR babies, He Jiankui, was locked up for his hubris. But if we retain our legacy genomes and traditional ecosystems, then pain and suffering will persist indefinitely. Next century and beyond, the persistence of any suffering anywhere on Earth will be a deliberate choice. I hope we have the wisdom to say “no”.

BM: Apart from the increasing of the vegans and vegetarians, what kind of other impact you think does the transhumanism movement will bring to humanity? Why?

David Pearce: Cellular agriculture was once science-fiction. Cruelty-free cultured meat and animal products are now poised to go mainstream. The cultured meat revolution will end perhaps the world's worst source of severe and readily avoidable suffering: factory-farming. Our victims are as sentient as small children and should be treated accordingly. Indeed, “technical solutions to ethical problems” is one of the snappier definitions of transhumanism.

What else?
Let’s focus on the “three supers” of transhumanism: superlongevity, superintelligence and superhappiness.

The benefits of indefinite youthful life-extension – superlongevity – should be clear. Human and nonhuman animals will no longer undergo the horrors of aging and bereavement. Old age doesn’t bring wisdom, just decrepitude.

Full-spectrum superintelligence involves more than acquiring an off-the-scale “IQ”, i.e. scoring highly on the simple-minded test that currently (mis)measures the “autistic” component of general intelligence. Full-spectrum (super-)intelligence is a function of an agent’s entire phenomenal world-simulation – not just logico-linguistic thought-episodes. Full-spectrum (super-)intelligence also entails an advanced capacity for introspective self-understanding, social cognition, and cooperative problem-solving. Looking further ahead, our successors will be able safely and intelligently to explore billions of radically alien state-spaces of sentience, each as different as waking from dreaming consciousness. Mastery of our reward circuitry can ensure all such outlandish state-spaces will be inherently awesome.
The enterprise of knowledge has scarcely begun.

Yet I believe the greatest blessing of transhumanism will be ubiquitous, genetically programmed well-being: lifelong superhappiness. Hedonic range and hedonic set-points can be ratcheted up by orders of magnitude. The darkest depths of posthuman life will be incomparably richer than today’s “peak experiences”.

BM: What is the direction of the development of the World Transhumanism Association? Why? What is your expectation of this association? Why?

David Pearce: A lot has happened since philosopher Nick Bostrom and I set up the World Transhumanist Association (WTA/H+) way back in 1998! I won’t attempt even a potted summary here. For the first decade of this century, the WTA was the overarching transhumanist organisation. Since then, the influence of transhumanist ideas has grown, but the transhumanist movement has fragmented into multiple groups and currents – although the WTA, now rebranded as Humanity Plus, continues to play a major role! Some continuities are worth stressing. The Transhumanist Declaration (1998, 2008) commits us to the well-being of all sentience. I hope the world’s last experience below hedonic zero in our forward light-cone will be a precisely datable event no further than a few centuries from now. Eternally youthful quasi-immortals can enjoy lives based on gradients of superintelligent bliss in state-spaces of consciousness as inaccessible to archaic humans as visual experience to the congenitally blind.

Transhumanists are extraordinarily diverse (cf. Transhumanism.com). Here I’ve scarcely scratched the surface of the movement. But I hope we – and the WTA / H+ – never lose sight of our commitment to universal well-being. It’s the main reason I’m a transhumanist.

BM: How do you see the future of the development of transhumanism? Why do you think so?

David Pearce: Well, here is an outline of my prophecies for life in the Year 3000:
Life in the Year 3000
I fear that Darwinian life has ugly surprises in store. The death-spasms of the old order won’t be pretty.
But future life will probably be glorious beyond our imagination.


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The Imperative to Abolish Suffering (2019)
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