Alan Wilson Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) was a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. Born in Chislehurst, he moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York. Pursuing a career, he attended Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, where he received a master’s degree in theology. Watts became an Episcopal priest in 1945, then left the ministry in 1950 and moved to California, where he joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies.
Watts gained a large following in the San Francisco Bay Area while working as a volunteer programmer at KPFA, a Pacifica Radio station in Berkeley. Watts wrote more than 25 books and articles on subjects important to Eastern and Western religion, introducing the then-burgeoning youth culture to The Way of Zen (1957), one of the first bestselling books on Buddhism. In Psychotherapy East and West (1961), Watts proposed that Buddhism could be thought of as a form of psychotherapy and not a religion. He also explored human consciousness, in the essay “The New Alchemy” (1958), and in the book The Joyous Cosmology (1962).
Towards the end of his life, he divided his time between a houseboat in Sausalito and a cabin on Mount Tamalpais. His legacy has been kept alive by his son, Mark Watts, and many of his recorded talks and lectures are available on the Internet. According to the critic Erik Davis, his “writings and recorded talks still shimmer with a profound and galvanizing lucidity.” - wikipedia
Dec 15, 2014
#24: Cosmic Beings: Transhumanist Deism in Ted Chu’s Cosmic Viewby Giulio Prisco
In Human Purpose and Transhuman Potential: A Cosmic Vision for Our Future Evolution, IEET affiliate scholar Ted Chu, a professor of Economics at New York University in Abu Dhabi and former chief economist for General Motors and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, argues that post-humanity is a logical and necessary evolutionary next step for humanity, and we need a new, heroic cosmic faith for the post-human era. “The ultimate meaning of our lives rests not in our personal happiness but in our contribution to cosmic evolution,” says Chu…
Dec 9, 2014
#27 Enhancing Virtues: Caring (part 1)by J. Hughes
Empathy draws on both mammalian circuits that we share with other animals and cognitive abilities that only appear to be present in our closest relatives, the great apes and and cetaceans, and ourselves. As with happiness and self-control, there is strong evidence that differences in our capacity for compassion and empathy are tied to differences in the brain structures and neurochemistries that they depend on.
Oct 16, 2014
Engineering Enlightenmentby Michael Abrams
Some spend a few decades meditating. Others spend an indeterminate amount of time inquiring after their true selves. Still others ingest ayahuasca or other intense psychoactive drugs. All are seeking the same thing: in a word, enlightenment. Now, a robotics engineer out of California is hoping to help seekers find it another way: with technology.
Sep 30, 2014
Last Things: Cold Comfort in the Far Futureby Gregory Benford
Robert Frost’s famous imagery—fire or ice, take your pick—pretty much sums it up. But lately, largely unnoticed, a revolution has unwound in the thinking about such matters, in the hands of that most rarefied of tribes, the theoretical physicists. Maybe, just maybe, ice isn’t going to be the whole story. Of course, linking the human prospect to cosmology itself is not at all new. The endings of stories are important, because we believe that how things turn out implies what they ultimately mean. This comes from being pointed toward the future, as any ambitious species must be.
Sep 29, 2014
Supertasking and Mindfulnessby Alex Nichols
In an age of unlimited access to information, coupled with an endless bombardment of stimulation from technology, I find it important to reassess our notions of bringing balance to what it means to be focused and present.
Sep 24, 2014
Timescales of the Hedonistic Imperative (6min 31sec)Adam Ford
IEET Contributor records IEET Fellow David Pearce talking about the future of the Hedonistic Imperative.
“The blueprint set out [in the Hedonistic Imperative] outlines only a cartoonish prototype of a mature post-Darwinian paradise. Its sketch of likely future neuro-scientific breakthroughs may well be wrong both in its few specifics and its projected time-scales. Experts in the relevant specialist fields will doubtless wince, at least in places. For The Hedonistic Imperative consists in a hand-waving, cross-disciplinary romp through dauntingly complex specialist topics. Inevitably, some of the pop neuroscience is simplistic to the point of parody. Eyebrows should be raised, too, at the dogmatic brevity with which various philosophical problems deserving book-length treatment are dispatched in a single sentence. The multitude of practical, medico-legal and socio-political problems which fulfilling our neurochemical Manifest Destiny will entail are largely passed over as well. These caveats are important. Yet leaving them aside, the biological program may be divided, somewhat arbitrarily, into three stages. They are here ranked in order of difficulty. Luckily, the stages happen to coincide in relative ethical importance, since crude harm-reduction, cruelty-prevention and pain-abolition are easier to accomplish than refining the architectural subtleties of paradise. Less happily, any biochemical description of the mechanics of the sublime just travesties the nature of the experience itself. The sub-academese prose below unavoidably debases what it aims to evoke. This is because of the contaminated associations of any terms associated with drug-abuse, genetic engineering, eugenics, or even the emotionally frigid atmosphere of the laboratory. Our present perspective on utopian biopsychiatry is jaundiced. For our education system virtually ignores the neurobiological foundations of all emotional life. Happily, that system also provides the formal tools for us to describe and escape from our predicament.”
“Unfortunately, there’s no way to map out the extent of our cognitive closure from within. This is frustrating. If quantum cosmologists can theorise about the first 10-43 second after the Big Bang, thirteen billion and more years ago, and still, rightly, be counted as practising hard science, it’s a shame that conjectures we do make about the living world a few thousand or million years hence have to be treated, not even as soft science, but as science-fiction. There are too many unknown unknowns to predict with any rational confidence. Merely extrapolating present trends is bound to mislead. The projected time-scales of even relatively predictable biomedical triumphs, e.g. the elimination of the ageing process, are vague. HI may veer towards heady speculation; but by the end of third millennium, life and consciousness may be more foreign to the contemporary imagination than even the most extravagant prediction dreamed up here. On the other hand, for all we know, some variant of the pleasure-principle is a universal - and universally intelligible - signature of sentient life; and its apotheosis in some sort of sublime cosmic orgasm is the ultimate destiny of the Universe. [This may overtax one’s credulity; the Big Bang indeed!] We simply don’t have enough evidence. That said, we may still incautiously proceed. Once suffering has been abolished, the era of old-fashioned moral choices will come to an end. The physiological mechanisms underlying the mind-brain’s value-creation processes will be unravelled during the invention of a pain-free world; but the kind of naturalised, mind-dependent value created by paradise-engineers after the phenomenology of nastiness has disappeared won’t embrace ethical categories in a sense we presently understand. The heroic moral urgency will have gone; indeed there is a risk that truly hedonistic themes as discussed in these sections of HI will divert attention away from the utter moral seriousness of the whole post-Darwinian project as conceived today. ” - Pearce
Sep 22, 2014
On Wellbeing, Bliss and HappinessAdam Ford
Adam Ford records philosopher and IEET Fellow David Pearce on the topic of wellbeing, bliss, and what the future has in store for us dealing with happiness-engineering.
David Pearce (born 3 April) is a British philosopher. He promotes the idea that there exists a strong ethical imperative for humans to work towards the abolition of suffering in all sentient life. His book-length internet manifesto The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how technologies such as genetic engineering, nanotechnology, pharmacology, and neurosurgery could potentially converge to eliminate all forms of unpleasant experience among human and non-human animals, replacing suffering with gradients of well-being, a project he refers to as “paradise engineering”.
“Well, there are technical obstacles and ideological obstacles to the abolitionist project. But if one deals first with the technical challenges, I think there are essentially three options. One is wireheading. Wireheading is (probably) a dead-end. But it is illuminating because the procedure shows that pleasure has no physiological tolerance. That is to say, it’s just as exhilarating having one’s pleasure centers stimulated 24 hours after starting a binge as it was at the beginning….”
“The neural basis of our so-called basic moods and emotions is simpler than so-called higher cognitive functions. But undeniably, this neural basis is still fiendishly complicated, the simplicity of wireheading notwithstanding. For instance, the mesolimbic dopamine system may not be, as we’ve sometimes supposed, the final common pathway of pleasure in the brain: dopamine apparently mediates “wanting” (i.e. incentive-motivation) as much as “liking”, which is signaled by activation of the mu opioid receptors. But if we focus here on the simple monoamines, an obvious target for intervention is indeed the mesolimbic dopamine system. One of the most common objections to the idea of abolishing suffering – ignoring here the prospect of full-blown paradise-engineering – is that without the spur of discontent we’d soon become idle and even bored. “If we were all happy, what would we do all day?” But enhanced dopamine function is associated, not just with euphoria, but with heightened motivation; a deeper sense of meaningfulness, significance and purpose; and an increased sensitivity to a greater range of rewards. So one possible option for paradise engineering is to focus on enriching the dopaminergic system to promote (a genetic predisposition to) lifestyles of high achievement and intellectual productivity.
That’s one option at least. Another sort of predisposition is to pursue a lifetime of introspection, meditation and blissful tranquility. If I seem to dwell unduly on ways of enriching dopamine function, that’s because exploring its amplification is a useful corrective to a widespread misconception i.e. that happiness inevitably leads to stagnation. The critical point, I think, is that to be blissful isn’t the same as being blissed out.”
Sep 22, 2014
Enhancing Virtues: Intelligence (Part 4): Brain Machinesby J. Hughes
The limitations of cognitive enhancement drugs will soon be complemented and surpassed by brain machine interfaces. The most consumer accessible brain machine devices that provide some intellectual enhancement are neurofeedback and transcranial direct current stimulation. Genetic and tissue engineering may provide avenues for at least the repair of cognitive deficits, and perhaps enhancement. Progress in actual nano-neural brain-machine interfaces, which will require advances in miniaturization, materials and nanotechnology, will enable more profound enhancement.
Sep 20, 2014
Enhancing Virtues: Intelligence (Part 3): Pharmaceutical Cognitive Enhancementby J. Hughes
There are limits to our ability to enhance intelligence, and the intellectual virtues, through social reform and lifestyle changes. For thousands of years we have used stimulants like caffeine, coca, qat and nicotine to boost attention. Now we have increasingly targeted drugs that improve attention, memory and learning, with fewer side effects.