Transhumanist meeting in Edinburgh

Transhumanists from in and around Edinburgh are invited for a drink following the Cafe Scientifique meeting this coming monday the 13th of December, at the Filmhouse Bar on Lothian Road. The cafe scientifique meeting is from 7:30pm, the subject is "Obesity". Otherwise you can join us after the meeting at about 8:30pm if you fancy socialising. We may also be discussing the arrangement of dedicated themed meetings for next year, possibly arranged through the university.

Ask for Sim.

For further info and a contact number


ExtroBritannia's December Event

The next ExtroBritannia event is scheduled for Saturday the 18th of
December 2004 starting at 12 noon in Holborn, London. Everyone welcome.

This month, we're having a social event, so come along for lunch and a chat on any transhumanist-related topics and/or to get to know other people interested in these subjects.


We will be at the Penderel's Oak (see below for the address) from 12 noon for lunch and will stay for drinks until 5-6pm. Feel free to show up at any time.

If it's your first time at an ExtroBritannia event, look out for a copy of Kurzweil's "The Age of Spiritual Machines" at our table.

Penderel's Oak
283-288 High Holborn
London WC1V 7HJ
Tel: 0207 242 5669



The ExtroBritannia mailing list

ExtroBritannia is part of the UK Transhumanist Association


The next ExtroBritannia event is scheduled for Sunday the 28th of November 2004 at 2pm in Holborn, London. Entrance is free. Everyone welcome.

This month, gerontologist and life-extension research promoter Aubrey de Grey will give us a presentation on "Promotion of life extension research via the Methuselah Mouse Prize and other methods: recent progress"


PLEASE NOTE: unlike our usual events, the November one will be on a Sunday instead of a Saturday. Also, we will be in the Bertrand Russel room, rather than the usual Artrists’ Room.


If you want to attend, you have three choices:

1) you can show up at the Penderel’s Oak (see below for the address) at 12 noon for a pre-event chat over lunch.

2) you can go directly to Conway Hall at 2,00 pm where we have hired the Bertrand Russell Room.

3) if you can’t make it for the presentation you can still catch up with us afterwards in the pub (for an hour or two from 5pm)

If it's your first time at an ExtroBritannia event and you are going to the pub either pre or post-event, look out for a copy of Kurzweil's "The Age of Spiritual Machines" at our table.


25 Red Lion Square,
London WC1R 4RL
tel 020 7242 8032

Penderel's Oak
283-288 High Holborn
London WC1V 7HJ
Tel: 0207 242 5669


ExtroBritannia's October event

Nick Bostrom: The Simulation Argument - Are You Living In a Computer Simulation?

The next ExtroBritannia event is scheduled for Saturday the 9th of
October in Oxford. Entrance is free, and everyone's welcome.

This month, transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom will give us a presentation on The Simulation Argument, the idea that you might currently be literally living in a computer simulation, running on a computer built by some advanced civilization. Films like The Matrix and novels like Greg Egan's Permutation City have explored the idea that we might be living in virtual reality. But what evidence is there for or against this hypothesis? And what are its implications? We should take the simulation-hypothesis seriously - if we deny it then we are committed to surprising predictions about the future possibilities for our species.

Further information on the Simulation Argument.


The event is structured in two parts:

1) You can join us for a pre-event chat and lunch at a local (Japanese) restaurant between 12,00 noon to 1,45pm.

2) Nick Bostrom's presentation on the Simulation Argument, at the Faculty of Philosophy, University Of Oxford, between 2,00pm to 5,00pm (approx.)


The event:

Faculty of Philosophy,
10 Merton Street
University Of Oxford
Sub-Faculty Of Philosophy
10 Merton Street


PLEASE NOTE: in order to gain entrance to the event you will have to be at the above address at 2,00pm. Late arrivals will not be able to gain access to the premises.

The pre-event lunch:

15 Holywell Street
Oxford OX1 3SA


If it is your first time at an ExtroBritannia meeting, look out for a copy of Kurzweil's "The Age of Spiritual Machines" displayed on the table we'll be sitting at.


ExtroBritannia's August event: Meet the UK Transhumanist Association

The next ExtroBritannia event is scheduled for Saturday the 21st of August in Holborn, London. Everyone invited.

This month's theme is: Meet the UK Transhumanist Association.

UKTA is the re-launched British Transhumanist Association. Its purpose is to spread transhumanist memes at all levels of British society through a mix of lobbying, outreach and education, and networking.

The event is structured in three segments:

1) 10,00am to 1,00pm: UKTA Board meeting. This is an open meeting and all those interested are invited to attend. The meeting's agenda involves internal organisational matters, the state of current projects, UKTA's aims for the rest of the year, and our relationship with the WTA.

2) 1,00pm to 2,00pm: Lunch

3) 2,00pm to 5,00pm: Meet the UK Transhumanist Association. An introduction to what UKTA is all about: aims, targets, current and future projects. Your chance to ask questions and make suggestions to the only pressure group with a transhumanist agenda in the UK.


Conway Hall - 10,00am-5,00pm (look for the "Artists' Room").

Lunch will be at a local pub (the Penderel's Oak), where we will also regroup for a chat over drinks after 5pm. You are welcome to join us there if you can't make it to the main event. If it is your first time at an ExtroBritannia meeting, look out for a copy of Kurzweil's "The Age of Spiritual Machines" displayed on the table we'll be sitting at.


25 Red Lion Square,
London WC1R 4RL
Tel: 020 7242 8032
The Conway Hall homepage


The Penderel's Oak
283-288 High Holborn
London WC1V 7HJ
Tel: 0207 242 5669


Announcing the birth of the UK Transhumanist Association
A group of people that have met through the ExtroBritannia events have come together to relaunch the British Transhumanist Association. Due to legal restrictions on the use of the word "British" in registering a not-for-profit company, the relaunched organisation will be known as the UK Transhumanist Association. UKTA was registered on the 26th of June 2004 and its members are presently busy organising resources to begin a programme of activities.
Our aim is to inject a healthy dose of transhumanist* memes into all
levels of British society through a mix of lobbying, outreach/education, and networking. 
*we have adopted the Transhumanist Declaration as our definition of "transhumanism"
Decisions in areas such as stem cells research, biotechnology and nanotechnology are too important to a be left to the (unaided) politicians. There is no shortage of pressure groups that have both a technophobic agenda and the ear of politicians sitting on crucial parliamentary committees. We aim to provide an alternative and positive approach with targeted position statements delivered where they are likely to have the most impact, i.e. the government and civil society institutions where those matters are discussed and decisions are taken.
Outreach / education
Increasingly, the prospect of a "posthuman future" is debated in the media. However, there is an abundance of misconceptions regarding the use of technology for the enhancement of the human condition, as seen in the confusion generated by the ongoing cloning debate. We aim to provide  expert-speakers to interested parties, professional organisations, etc, able to clarify the issues, highlight the potential benefits and dangers, and generally outline a roadmap to the future. Furthermore, we aim to organise events that provide the general public with an opportunity to find out more about cutting-edge technologies and their impact on individuals and society.
We aim to create networking opportunities for UK-based professionals in the relevant enabling technologies with the aim of fostering employment opportunities and cross-fertilisation of ideas.
While not directly linked to any other transhumanist organisation, we have friendly and cooperative relations with the World Transhumanist Association and the Extropy Institute and we are working towards building further constructive relationships with other, similar, groups.
Join us!
If you have the enthusiasm for helping with lobbying or arranging educational or networking activities, or if you have a project in mind which you think would benefit from taking place under the banner of the UK Transhumanist Association, then please do one or more of the following:
Join the UKTA mailing list. This is an open list for the discussion and planning of campaign activities
Join UKTA's free e-membership scheme which allows you to keep in touch with our activities. You will receive a monthly newsletter and any special announcements.
Join UKTA. We rely on membership fees to cover our expenses, such as those associated with sending regular press releases, targeted mailshots (for example to MPs) and arranging meeting venues. If you would like to support this work, then please consider joining. Membership costs £30 per year and will enable you to vote for the Board of Directors or stand for election yourself. Donations are also welcomed.


The next ExtroBritannia event is scheduled for Saturday July 31st, 2004. Please note that this month we are going to an "external" event:

Intelligence Augmentation Day

Organised by BCC, the Neuroscience Alliance and the Entelechy Institute

Location: Wolverton, Bucks, UK (see below for details)


Unlike our usual events, it is necessary to RSVP in order to get
access to the venue (it's a private functions room at a hotel; if your name is not on the venue door you can't get in). See below for RSVP details.


12 noon - 5pm

Meet at: The Albert Function Suite, The New Victoria hotel, 46
Church Street, Wolverton, Bucks, Tel: (01908) 315447

Free beer/wine/beverages

IA lecture by Alex Ramonsky: Alex will discuss the possibilities that medical technology and drugs now offer for augmenting our
intelligence, looking at what is currently possible and what is likely to become possible in the next five years. These possibilities raise ethical and technical questions. We'll focus on the importance of using the new techniques to benefit humanity and to save lives, and discuss how we can make sure they are available to all, not just the rich and powerful.

Demos of biofeedback & light/sound machines

Presentation by biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey: "Really curing aging: a foreseeable prospect and a reason for IA". Aubrey will give a broad outline of a practical approach to repairing all aspects of age-related cellular and molecular damage starting from existing
biotechnology, and will discuss several of the more neglected aspects of why this might be a worthwhile thing to do urgently and how society will adjust.

Transhumanist & Extropian news exchange & updates

Intro to the Entelechy Institute's new project -'Babylon 5.5'

BCC's International Backup Exchange (bring your backups...it's
nice to know if your house burns down you have a backup on the
other side of the world)

5pm-at least midnight:

Alex's book launching party (at Alex's home; 5 minutes away)

Meal provided

More free drinks

Demos of TMS/NMS tech

Light/sound sessions

Free copy of book for all those who helped (if not available on the day, this will be posted to you)

Music & videos


1. Alex's house: free, but there may be a crowd and it may be just carpet space.

2. Local hotels (make your own booking arrangements):

The Crauford Arms, 59 Stratford Road, Wolverton, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire MK125LT - Tel: 01908 313864
The Swan Revived Hotel, Newport Pagnell, High Street, Newport Pagnell, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire MK16 8AR
Tel: +44 (0)1908 610 565

So, RSVP to:

Or by mail to:
The Entelechy Institute
Seventh Star Studios
27 Old Gloucester Street
London WC1N 3XX
Tel: (UK) 07092 016095
Or: 07759 693908

Feel free to bring a partner or friend. Under-16s are admissible (but of course won't be served alcohol). Any other inquiries please use the above contacts.


PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE - What's wrong with the Precautionary Principle? What are the alternatives?

An article on Spiked-online examines the tragically ironic risks involved in living in a risk-averse culture. The Extropy Institute suggests a more progress-friendly alternative in the form of the Proactionary Principle

From the Spiked-online article: Professor Sir Colin Berry is not a big fan of the 'precautionary principle': 'If everything we did had to be absolutely safe, risk-free, proven to have no adverse outcomes for anyone or anything, we'd never get anywhere. Buildings wouldn't go up, planes wouldn't get off the ground, medical breakthrough would come to a standstill, science would be stifled…. Shall I go on?' Berry says that when he challenges 'our obsession with safety', some imagine that he is leading the charge for being reckless, for throwing caution to the wind, as the saying goes. He insists that isn't so. 'Precaution is a part of everyday life. It is sensible to do things that minimise risks to ourselves and to others. You shouldn't close your eyes when you cross the road; you should stub out your cigarette before going to sleep.' But, says Berry, problems arise when precaution is transformed into an abstract principle that we're expected to live our lives by. 'Safety is a description of an approach, rather than an absolute state', he says. 'We can never be absolutely safe and free from risk. Indeed, aspiring to such a state brings its own problems.'

Read on: More sorry than safe by Brendan O'Neill

A proactionary alternative to the Precautionary Principle emerged from the recent "Vital Progress Summit" organised by the Extropy Institute: "People's freedom to innovate technologically is highly valuable, even critical, to humanity. This implies several imperatives when restrictive measures are proposed: Assess risks and opportunities according to available science, not popular perception. Account for both the costs of the restrictions themselves, and those of opportunities foregone. Favor measures that are proportionate to the probability and magnitude of impacts, and that have a high expectation value. Protect people's freedom to experiment, innovate, and progress."

Read on: the Proactionary Principle


ECO-FUNDAMENTALISM - Eco-Terror Cited as Top Threat

An article on Wired examines the growing menace of eco-terrorism

According to the FBI, eco-terrorism is the major domestic terror threat in the US, having already caused $110 million in property damage since 1976 (and that doesn't account for lost research, increased security costs, lost productivity and abandoned grants). And in the UK? Well, a leading animal rights fondamentalist organisation (SHAC) was born in Birmingham... read on:

"In the early 1990s, biotech executives and scientists were
inundated by harassment and violence in the United Kingdom
and Europe. In 1996, the violence began spreading to the
United States [...] The FBI has linked much of the harassment
and violence to groups including SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal
Cruelty), the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation

"SHAC's stated purpose is to shut down UK-based Huntingdon
Life Sciences, one of the largest animal-testing companies in
the world, because it uses primates, dogs, rabbits, pigs and
other animals for research. SHAC has targeted Huntingdon directly.
In February 2001, SHAC members beat the company's president, Brian
Cass, with clubs outside his home in the United Kingdom while his
wife and 3-year-old child looked on. He survived and remains head
of Huntingdon. One attacker served three years for the incident."

The threat of international terrorism at the hand of a different kind of fundamentalism was underestimated until 9/11, the article concludes. Do we need to see someone killed by an eco-fondamentalist before this threat to progress is fully recognised and confronted?


ExtroBritannia's June event: Transhumans in Space

The next ExtroBritannia event is scheduled for Saturday the 12th of
June at 2,00pm in Holborn, London. Everyone invited.

This month's theme is: Transhumans in space - space exploration/colonisation and its impact on the human condition


Conway Hall - 2,00-5,00 pm (look for the "Artists' Room")

After the event we will regroup at a local pub (Penderel's Oak) for
a chat over drinks. If you can't make it to the event, you are welcome to join us there after 5,00pm. If it is your first time at an ExtroBritannia meeting, look out for a copy of Kurzweil's "The Age of Spiritual Machines" being displayed on the table we'll be sitting at.


25 Red Lion Square,
London WC1R 4RL
Tel: 020 7242 8032
The Conway Hall homepage


The Penderel's Oak
283-288 High Holborn
London WC1V 7HJ
Tel: 0207 242 5669


The Day After Tomorrow - the latest Hollywood blockbuster is dissected on Spiked Online

Disaster films have a long tradition of attracting big audiences with the perverse pleasure of contemplating their own mass self-demise. What's different with The Day After Tomorrow is that it pretends to be taken seriously: the producers have organised preview screenings for scientists and have successfully sparked off a debate in scientific circles about the film's scenario. The ("scientific") plot? Greenhouse gas emission causes global warming > global warming causes the polar ice caps to melt > this causes an influx of fresh water into the salt water of the world's oceans > which causes the Gulf Stream to stop > which three hurricanes to drag cold air from the upper atmosphere into the lower atmosphere which > initiates a new ice age > The End.

According to Mark Gordon, the film's producer, The Day After Tomorrow is based on "science fact, although we have collapsed the time period to make the coming of this ice age happen much more quickly". Indeed. As the Spiked article's author puts it: "environmental changes on this scale generally take centuries to occur. And far from being 'science fact', there is significant scientific debate about whether or not each of the stages in the film's doomsday scenario, upon which each subsequent stage depends, is a) possible, b) likely, and c) necessarily disastrous for humankind."

The whole thing reminds me of that wonderful neologism created by early extropian Dave Krieger: disasturbation - "idly fantasizing about possible catastrophes (ecological collapse, full-blown totalitarianism) without considering their likelihood or considering their possible solutions/preventions."

"Science, and fiction" by Sandy Starr(on the Spiked site)

The Day After Tomorrow - the film's official website


TRANSGENIC ART - Firm plans human DNA tree memorial in the form of transgenic tombstones

The idea was born as a student project at the Royal College of Arts, London and is now trying to develop into a commercial venture (Biopresence)

First, some skin cells would be obtained from the person concerned, then the extracted DNA would be injected into a single apple tree cell which would be grown into a small plant, ready for planting. In principle, every cell of the tree would contain a copy the human DNA ("silenced" in order to allow the normal growth and function of the tree). Before it can actually sell its services, the company would have to satisfy the government's regulatory system for genetically modified organisms.

COMMENT: Mr Tremmel, the company's founder, says that the trees will cost around £20,000 and that "it's cheap for eternal life" which is plainly wrong on two accounts: first, twenty grand ain't cheap in my book. Second, and much more important, survival of DNA does not in any way equate to survival of the individual - hasn't the repruductive cloning debate buried that old chestnut once and for all?! The whole exercise is kind of interesting from an extropian point of view, as an example of transgenic art, but let's not mistake it for an attempt at immortality... To be fair, the people behind the project declared that "we are intrigued by the ability of the project to raise question about the borders of the self, the meaning of death, and the possibility of eternal life" and that's definitively something worth talking about.


A Guardian article on the topic: Firm plans human DNA tree memorial


Lifespans - a two part series on Radio 4 on the natural history and biology of longevity

The meme of scientific intervention aimed at life-span extension is truly out...

The first part of the program (available here by clicking on "Listen again to Programme 1") is dedicated to the investigation of why different organisms have have their own particular life spans. The second part (Mondays 10 May 2004 21.00-21.30 and available on line here after that date) is of more direct transhumanist interest, as it focuses on long-lived organisms, such as a cold-water clam which is known to live for 220 years and the remarkable, lab-created worms that live six times longer than normal worms and that at 500 years old (in worm years), are still quite sprightly.


A Guardian biographical piece on Daniel Dennet, the "semantic engineer" author of "Consciousness Explained" and "Freedom Evolves". In his new book, "Breaking the spell", Dennett will take on supernaturalism with the declared intention to "extirpate" it.

Daniel Dennett (homepage) is certainly a profoundly extropian philosopher, even if he probably doesn't know it ;-)

A few quotes from the article:

"The essential doctrine that Dennett took from Quine was that knowledge -and philosophy - had to be understood as natural processes. They have arisen as part of the workings of the ordinary world, which can be scientifically studied, and are not imposed or injected from some supernatural realm. So there is nothing magical about human brains - no ghost in the machine, to use Ryle's phrase. When we talk about "intelligence" we are describing behaviour, or a propensity towards certain behaviour, and not the exercise of some disembodied intellect."

"Darwinism gives us a perspective to see how meaning and function and purpose can come to exist in a world that is intrinsically meaningless and functionless - not just biological purpose and function, but in the end, moral purpose and the meaning of life. In the beginning, there wasn't any design. Nothing was designed. Nothing had a function. It is life that gives birth to reasons and functions. There were reasons before there were things that could think about reasons. For example, there's a reason why the baby cuckoo pushes the other baby out of the nest, but it is clueless about why it's doing it. Reasons predate reasoners."

"The trouble with the word atheism is that there are so many different concepts of God it would be foolish to take them all on at once and say they are all rubbish. Apparently that's what the atheist does. But I don't believe in anything supernatural. That's naturalism, I guess. But the main thing is that it's not supernatural. I have absolutely no doubt that the secular and scientific vision is right and deserves to be endorsed by everybody, and as we have seen over the last few thousand years, superstitious and religious doctrines will just have to give way."

The full article


ExtroBritannia - London event: life-extension

The next ExtroBritannia event is scheduled for Saturday the 24th of April at 12,00pm in Holborn, London.

The theme of the meeting is life-extension. Michael Price will give a presentation based on his "The Role of Enzymic Cofactors in Aging or How to Live to 200":

"To live longer we know we should cut down on tobacco, alcohol and calories, drink water and drive carefully. Less well known are the benefits of various micronutrients in our diet: micronutrients such as the B-vitamins, minerals and other dietary precursors to enzymic cofactors; yet the health and longevity benefits of the cofactor-yielding B vitamins and minerals are much greater than the more widely publicised anti-oxidants, such as vitamins C and E. We survey the dietary cofactors that have extended lifespan in animals, apparently by slowing aging. We examine the experimental methodologies used and their relevance to, and implications for, humans. We examine a number of theories of aging in relation to various dietary-derived enzymic cofactors. In the light of the role of enzymic cofactors in aging we look to see what other dietary micronutrients may slow aging, or at least improve health. Finally we examine some prevalent misconceptions before concluding."



If you want to attend, you have two choices:

1) you can show up at the Wetherspoon pub at the address below from 12,00 noon to just before 2pm for a pre-event chat over lunch/caffeine/drinks

2) you can go directly to Conway Hall at 2,00 pm where we have hired the "Artists' Room".

If it's your first time at an ExtroBritannia meeting and you are going to the pre-event lunch, I'll be the guy clearly displaying a copy of Kurzweil's "The Age of Spiritual Machines" on the table we'll be sitting at.


Penderel's Oak
283-288 High Holborn
London WC1V 7HJ
Tel: 0207 242 5669


Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square,
London WC1R 4RL
Tel: 020 7242 8032



BTA RELOADED: Building British Transhumanism. London, Thursday the 15th of April 15 2004, 7-9pm

A meeting to discuss an agenda for British transhumanism and the relaunching of the British Transhumanist Association

Here at ExtroBritannia we are always very interested in transhumanist events and in what the various transhumanist associations get up to. Obviously, then, something happening in London and involving our good friends at the BTA is just unmissable! So, if you want to talk transhumanism and can't wait till the next ExtroBritannia meeting (later this month - check the blog soon for further details) make your way to Community Technology (at the junction of Shakespeare Road and Coldharbour Lane).

Unit F9
First Floor
245a Coldharbour Lane
London, SW9 8RR

Telephone 020 7733 3334


At the event will be present, among others, Nick Bostrom, Chair of the World Transhumanist Association and Fellow in Philosophy at Oxford University and J. Hughes, Secretary of the World Transhumanist Association.

The full announcement and details


Are you a Futurehuman?

Channel 4 and Professor Gunther Von Hagens (the man behind last year's Body Worlds exhibition and public autopsy) are searching for a terminally ill patient donor to take part in a television programme to redesign and 'perfect' a human body and preserve it for posterity at the Science Museum in London.

From the Channel 4 Futurehuman website: "Futurehuman aims to 'improve' upon evolution by making alterations to a donor's body after their death. The changes will be based on the decisions of leading experts in fields such as anatomy, evolutionary biology, surgery and mechanical engineering. The 'futurehuman' will then be displayed at the Science Museum's new Dana Wing, which is dedicated to cutting edge science. Professor von Hagens says: This person will be a landmark human being. They will pave the way for a future life with a more healthy, capable and longer lasting body."

An interesting exercise, if slightly macabre... might even help in further mainstreaming the deeply transhumanist concept of improving on human evolution by technological means (but what about doing that before the donor's death? Now, that would be unmissable viewing...)


Going Our Way?

Interesting article on TechCentralStation by James Pethokoukis examining the demographics of the United States in the next fifty years. There is an increase amongst culturally conservative groups (African-Americans and Latin Americans) that could direct politics away from enhancement or radical technologies.

Not necessarily the outcome posited given the unpredictable interaction between culture, politics and technology. Is there a similar development awaiting Europe as immigration increases from the Mediterranean, Africa and Asia?

Philip Chaston


Are "we" a cult?!

Andrew Orlowsky of The Enquirer thinks so - but the cults experts don't

So - are "we" a cult?! I guess the question would seem downright silly to anyone that has ever attended an ExtroBritannia meeting or that has lurked for a while in a transhumanist mailing list. I even hesitate using the word "we", given what a loose and fluid gathering "we" are, but most people have only occasionally heard of extropians or transhumanists through the media and the media do not always get their facts 100% right…

Click here for the full article.


ExtroBritannia - London meeting: Nanotech 101

The next ExtroBritannia get-together is scheduled for Saturday the 27st of March at 12,30pm in Holborn, London.

The theme of the meeting is: Nanotech 101 an introduction to nanotechnology and nanoscience. Our resident nanotech expert will give a presentation of the course he is preparing for potential use in Further Education.

WHERE & WHEN******************************************

If you want to attend, you have two choices:

1) you can show up at the Starbucks at the address below at 12,30 for a pre-meeting chat over sandwiches and caffeine

2) you can go directly to Conway Hall at 2,00 pm where we have hired the "Artists' Room".

If it's your first time at an ExtroBritannia meeting and you are going to the Starbucks pre-meeting, I'll be the guy clearly displaying a copy of Kurzweil's "The Age of Spiritual Machines" on the table we'll be sitting at.


High Holborn WC1, 90
90 High Holborn
London WC1V 6LJ

25 Red Lion Square,
London WC1R 4RL
tel 020 7242 8032



"Why humans are superior to apes"

Anti-humanism: an essay on Spiked-Online looks at how "humanism, in the sense of a faith in humanity's potential to solve problems through the application of science and reason, is taking quite a battering today."

We have all, at some point or other, heard something similar to what John Gray, professor of European thought at the London School of Economics has to say on the subject: "Homo sapiens is only one of very many species, and not obviously worth preserving. Later or sooner, it will become extinct. When it is gone the Earth will recover." A not unusaul eco-fundamentalist dream: an Earth emptied of (human) life and given back to the oh-so-wise animals that would never rape the planet the way we have... Part of this ideology is the denial of Homo Sapiens' uniqueness in the animal world, and part of the strategy to prove this, is to show how other animals, primates especially, are more like us than we previously thought. There is even a campaign trying to extend human rights to great apes... Helene Guldberg takes this argument apart, methodically going trhough the state of the art in the research on the behaviour of primates (cultural transmission, social learning, language, capacity to deceive, self-awareness) and comes to the conclusion that "Six million years of ape evolution may have resulted in the emergence of 39 local behavioural patterns - in tool-use, communication and grooming rituals. However this has not moved them beyond their hand-to-mouth existence nor led to any significant changes in the way they live. Our lives have changed much more in the past decade - in terms of the technology we use, how we communicate with each other, and how we form and sustain personal relationships. Considering the vast differences in the way we live, it is very difficult to sustain the argument that apes are 'just like us'. What appears to be behind today's fashionable view of ape and human equivalence is a denigration of human capacities and human ingenuity. The richness of human experience is trivialised because human experiences are lowered to, and equated with, those of animals."

Ironically enough, as an extropian I actually agree with John Gray when he says that Homo Sapiens will sooner or later become extinct (or should we say obsolete?). It is on the subject of what exactly will replace it, however, that we radically differ...

Why humans are superior to apes, by Helene Guldberg


'Off the Shelf' Science

At the ExtroBrit meetings, we have sometimes talked about the possibility of non-professional scientists constructing complex instrumentation, such a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) as a project. The latest design for a PC based spectrometer, linked to the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Paris, demonstrates that many research programmes, once limited to universities due to expense and bespoke design, are now opening up to hobbyists.

Using commercial-off-the-shelf cards and RF Engines' cores in FPGAs, institute engineers built an FFT spectrometer that can fit into a standard PC, replacing the huge rack-mounted systems traditionally used, Klein said.

Radio telescope systems have gone through a string of generational design changes over the past 20 years. The analog filter-based spectrometer gave way to an acoustic optical version, later supplanted by autocorrelation spectrometers, Klein said. The digital FFT spectrometer, which Klein called the fourth-generation radio telescope, is designed to handle more frequency channels than previous systems and to see finer resolutions of spectrum.

Whilst the latest version of the spectrometer is still built by engineers, using a combination of bought parts and specifically engineered cores, the next generation will probably be open to the radio telescope hobbyists who dot the globe. Examples can be found here, here in Cambridge and here as a non-profit corporation.

There are plenty of examples. What strikes me as one of the least discussed aspects of the information revolution is the decrease in costs for scientific instrumentation combined with the potential of computing power as digital replaces analogue. For those who are interested in science, the barriers to entry are lowering and the possibilities for achieving research objectives are far higher.

Not everyone wants to work on science, but for enthusiasts who do, it is faster, better and cheaper.

Philip Chaston (22.40, 23rd February 2004)


Therapeutic cloning: it would be immoral not to do it

The lab that brought us Dolly the sheep moves into human therapeutic cloning

The first successful cloning of a human embryo was announced only a few days ago by a South Korean team that succeeded in removing the nuclei from human eggs replacing them with somatic nuclei of the same donors. The resulting cells were allowed to replicate for less than a week, until they developed into blastocysts (clumps of a few hundreds cells), the stage at which stem cells gather together and are easier to harvest. Now the Roslin Institute, near Edinburgh, has announced its intention to create blastocysts cloned from motor neurone disease sufferers in order to shed light on the causes of the disease. Dr Ian Wilmut, of the Roslin Insitute, replied to those that consider such experiments immoral with a downright extropian one-liner: "Cloning promises such benefits that it would be immoral not to do it."

Immoral not to do it, just like it would be immoral to leave someone to bleed to death at a crash site instead of taking him to a hospital. Immoral, just like not developing those technologies (biotech, nanotech, AI) that promise to relieve human suffering and to take us beyond the human condition.

Cloned human embryos are stem cell breakthrough (New Scientist)

Dolly lab moves on to cloning human cells (The Times)


Running out of Oil

One of the more important obstacles that we face in the next two decades is the possible decline that we face in the production of oil and proven reserves. This will have a significant impact on the current economic structures that depend upon fossil fuels and their input in advanced industrial economies. Moreover, as China, India, Asia and Latin America increase the living standards of their populations, we can expect the demand for oil to jump just as proven reserves reach a limit.

David Goldstein, vice-provost at the California Institute of Technology and an advocate of nuclear technology, has written a new book entitled, "Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil". In this text, he examines the problems that society will face in meeting this challenge. In particular, advocates of reliance on the 'hidden hand' of the market, do not recognise that the limitations of the oil economy will apply to its short-term replacements: coal, natural gas and the uranium underpinning nuclear power.

Goldstein argues that there is no technological fix and that the complexities of energy supply require innovation on a broad range of front from new forms of power to greater innovation in existing infrastructure.

''There is no single magic bullet that will solve all our energy problems,'' Goodstein writes. ''Most likely, progress will lie in incremental advances on many simultaneous fronts.'' We might finally learn to harness nuclear fusion, the energy that powers the sun, or to develop better nuclear reactors, or to improve the efficiency of the power grid. But those advances will require a ''massive, focused commitment to scientific and technological research.

Goldstein argues that the inevitable decrease in oil reserves is a major problem - one that will affect future technological innovation and economic growth if it is not addressed and resolved.

Philip Chaston - 18.24, 15th February 2004


Consent vs Research

Medical researchers have condemned the new Human Tissues Bill as an impediment to teaching and resaerch.

But scientists say the changes go too far and will make teaching and medical research extremely difficult.

There is no discrimination between whole organs and a collection of a few cells on a microscope slide, they say.

Cancer charities and the Wellcome Trust are calling on ministers to make changes to the Bill.

Doctors have to obtain written consent if they wish to use any form of human tissue removed from a person living or dead, even if they are checking for the prevalence of a virus in the general population. Think of the consequences if tests could not have been carried out for AIDS.

There is a quandary since informed consent is surely necessary before the tissues of any individual are extracted, preserved and used for any purpose, even if it s for public health.

However, with 3,000,000 samples and 100,000,000 blood samples, this is another example of bureaucracy run wild. Moreover, public health is often used as an argument to override the concerns of an individual and, on certain occasions, they probably do so.

Philip Chaston (21.36, 8th February 2003)


"Four legs good. Two legs bad." Scientific research, Orwell and the the dangers of "animalism".

Plans to build a centre of excellence for neuroscience research have been shelved by Cambridge University due to financial and public order reasons.

The increased costs of new animal welfare regulations and the security costs due to the possibility of violent protests by animal rights activists are behind the decision. "We can't afford to build and run Fort Knox" commented a source connected with the project, reports the BBC. Animal rights fundamentalists have become a major obstacle to medical progress in Britain by adopting the public face of harmless-looking high street tin rattlers, while at the same time resorting to violence or the threat of violence to impose their extreme views. Many such groups have been quick to celebrate the sad news as a victory, to the dismay of patients' groups who hoped the research could have found cures for brain diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Funnily enough, "animalism" (as is tempting to call the warped ideology of animal rights fundamentalists) was the philosophy of the revolutionaries depicted in Orwell's "Animal Farm". From a fascinating little website dedicated to everything Orwell: "Animalism has amazing similarities to present-day Environmentalism, which gains money and power by extolling the virtures of animals and nature over human-beings, and blames human activity for the world's evils." Today's animalists have no doubt about which is worth more: the life of an animal or the life of a human being. Four legs good. Two legs bad...


ExtroBritannia - January meeting: "Transhumanist Resources"

The next ExtroBritannia lunch/get-together is scheduled for Saturday the 31st of January at 12 noon in central London.
The theme of the meeting is: "transhumanist resources": come along to offer transhumanist-related books you are willing to lend or to look for books you are interested in (the same applies to other media: tapes, DVDs, etc) or just come along for a transhumanist-related chat.


If you want to attend, you have three choices:

1) you can show up at the basement cafe' of Europe's largest bookshop (Waterstone's in Piccadilly, London) at 12,00

2) you can go directly to the restaurant for lunch ("Chowki", 1,00 o'clock).

3) you can join us back at Waterstone's for coffee/drinks and further discussion at about 2,30/3,00 pm (either in the basement cafe' or restaurant).

If it's your first time at an ExtroBritannia meeting I'll be the guy clearly displaying a copy of Kurzweil's "The Age of Spiritual Machines" on the table we'll be sitting at.


WATERSTONE'S - From Piccadilly Circus, Waterstone's is about 50 yards down Piccadilly (on the left handside). Once inside take the stairs on the right, down to the lower floor cafe'/restaurant: the cafe' will be right in front of you.


CHOWKI - The restaurant is a five minutes walk from Waterstone's: Chowki, 2-3 Denman Street, London W1D 7HA
(Nearest Tube Station: Piccadilly Circus)



Cancerous Britain?

Hit Spiked-Online's "Don't Panic" button for some common sense on the so-called cancer epidemic

Cancer cases might be at an all-time high in the UK, but that is, paradoxically, the result of increased longevity: "Cancer mainly affects older people, and as our population ages we are inevitably seeing more cases." Not to mention increased detection rates: "More cancers are getting caught earlier, which improves the chances of successful treatment. While the incidence rates have been rising steadily since the 1970s, the death rates have been declining". The article brings some badly needed rationality to the debate on pollution and its effect on health.