:: Article

Digital Ghosts

Interview by Richard Marshall.

eric-steinhart

Eric Steinhart is the philosopher brooding on digital ghosts, the digital brain, whether the ghosts are intelligent and why they’re not fake, on whether everything is computable, on the Calvanism of anti-digitalism, on the ontology of software, on tribal religions and why they might go away, on morally satisfactory atheism as Platonism, on why Aquinas helps, on why Nietzsche helps, on Buddhism, drugs, magic, raves, and on drawing the metaphysical conclusions from Dawkins that Dawkins fails to draw. Here we go, to infinity and beyond…

3:AM: What made you become a philosopher?

Eric Steinhart: I grew up in a very religious household, where the religion was an evangelical Protestantism bordering on fundamentalism. I was consumed by my Christian faith, but I was also tortured by it. Fortunately, my father was always asking questions, and his curiosity got me started on the long road out of Christianity. So I got into philosophy for religious reasons. But my philosophical interests were helped by a very abstract cast of mind. I got deeply into mathematics and computer science (my first degree is in computer science). So I love abstract reasoning.

9781137363855

3:AM: You’ve thought about how as technology advances we can all become ‘digital ghosts’. Can you first say what is at stake with this idea – is this idea of afterlife a religious idea?

ES: When people think about life after death, they think about mind-body dualism, along with the traditional religions, such as Christianity. But I argue that ideas from computer science provide a better way to think about life after death. A cell is like a book which contains instructions for writing books. And, when it reproduces, it writes other books. Your genes are instructions for writing cellular books. Since they are digital, they can exactly copy themselves into their new cellular homes. And now you can get a scan of your DNA, store it on a hard drive, and then use it to produce new DNA that gets implanted into a cell. That’s a kind of digital resurrection.

Your whole body is just a system of cells. It’s like a library of interacting books, which all tell stories about each other. Or its like a network of interacting computers. You are a visceral internet, a living digital library. As part of your body, your brain is also digital. If it’s not digital, then what is it? Don’t say analog, because that’s just an infinity of bits. If it’s not digital, then it contains something that escapes binary division. Plato wrote about this in his Sophist, which I think is by far his best dialogue. If you don’t think the brain is digital, then you believe it contains a sophist. To use the Platonic imagery, the brain is a trackless wilderness, haunted by an uncanny shadow.

If the brain is digital, then it can be exactly duplicated in software. It has no shadows, only luminous structure. Kurzweil refers to this duplication as brain-uploading. Since brains inhabit bodies, your software brain needs to inhabit a software duplicate of your body. A software duplicate of your body is a digital ghost. After you die, your digital ghost lives in a software world, like a physically realistic video game. A copy of your brain is a copy of your mind. It’s exactly as intelligent as you are. It has your memories, your consciousness, your personality. All your psychology. But a digital ghost is not a disembodied mind; on the contrary, it’s a living software body.

Some people like to argue about whether digital ghosts are really possible. Will we ever upload our brains? It might just be science fiction. I’m not interested in predicting the future. One point of digital ghosts is that human persons can be exactly copied. Another point is that life after death no longer belongs to traditional religions. If there is life after death, it’s going to be a consequence of computer science. It might not involve uploading, but it will involve digital replication.

3:AM: Two things you think about them – these are non-supernatural ghosts but they are becoming intelligent. How are they intelligent – are you thinking that they will be fully intelligent one day? And this ghost world is electronic and so physical but is just virtual – so why isn’t it a fake world? Doesn’t it just mean that records of me continue to exist but I’m not there, I don’t get to be resurrected, revised or reincarnated, I stay dead or flawed don’t I? Is this why stage theory is important to your position?

ES: When I play chess with my computer, I’m not playing fake chess. It’s just as real as the chess played with wooden pieces on a wooden board. And when two computers play chess, they’re playing real chess too. I like to buy music from iTunes. When I download a music file, and play it on my computer, it’s not fake music. It’s a copy of the file stored on the Apple servers, which is a copy of the file produced in the recording studio. So I’m listening to copies of copies. All of these copies are equally real. Now look at your genes. When a cell replicates accurately, the result is two copies of its genes. These copies aren’t fake; they are real genes. All the exact copies of a digital bodies and minds are just as real as their originals.

But a copy is never identical with its original. So what about personal identity? Here is a sentence that is true every time you say it: I am not identical to myself. It’s true because, from the start of the sentence to its end, you’ve changed. And since you’ve changed, the self at the start of the sentence is not identical to the self at the end. You don’t have any identity through time. Your past body is always changing, atom by atom, into some distinct future body. Your past mind is always changing, thought by thought, into some distinct future mind. Identity through time is a fiction. It’s the illusion of permanence, which the Buddhists so insightfully point to as the origin of suffering.

If you want to be identical with yourself, then you want something impossible. You’re not going to remain self-identical if you get teleported to Mars. You’re not going to remain self-identical if you get uploaded into a digital ghost. And you’re not going to remain self-identical if you stay at home sitting in your chair. They only way for you to remain self-identical is for you to stop changing. Identity is death. Anybody who wants to remain self-identical wants the uniformity of death. Maybe your skeleton remains self-identical because it never changes; but your skeleton is dead.

To affirm personal identity is to become attached to yourself. This self-attachment is self-love. It marks the fall of the self from self-clarity to self-obscurity. Plotinus used the allegory of Narcissus falling into the mirroring pool, the mirror of Dionysus. You fall into self-love, self-obsession, self-absorption, self-pity. You fall into depression and despair. I like the Medieval metaphors: you fall into the dark night of the soul, your own personal hell. It’s a struggle to get out; I’ve been there. One way to escape from the grip of personal identity is to work towards the Buddhist goal of self-detachment and enlightenment. Another and similar way is to work towards the ancient Greek ideal of the sage. The Stoics, Epicureans, and Neoplatonists described such sages.

Life means that your future selves are never identical with your past selves. One way many philosophers deal with the impossibility of identity through time is by turning to stage theory. A persistent thing is like a four-dimensional book composed of three-dimensional pages. Persistent things are processes composed of instantaneous stages. The past stages in any process change into its future stages. But change annihilates identity, so future stages are never identical to past stages. Each page in any process-book contains instructions for writing the next page. These instructions are just natural algorithms. They are the laws of nature applied locally.

This is where genes and minds are impressive. Genes persist across bodies by making future copies of themselves. This power of exact self-replication is the power of life. Genes have this power because, and only because, they are digital. Because minds are digital, they also persist by making future copies of themselves. Organisms and persons require duplication without identity. We’re lucky that digital copying destroys personal identity. I’m glad I’m not a skeleton. I’m grateful that the power of becoming destroys my identity at every moment. I’m grateful that there exists a power which enables me to loop back into myself, to read my past, and write my future.

3:AM: So does your approach involve the idea that everything is computable – the human mind and consciousness in particular – and do you think that metaphysics needs to be much more interested in computerization than it has been so far? Is this where your use for programs like ‘The Game of Life’ comes in?

ES: Almost everything is computable. Almost. The things that aren’t computable are structures way out in the infinite world of pure mathematics. To put it technically, anything that can be modeled by a constructible set is computable. And that’s almost certainly every possible physical universe. Physicality probably is equivalent to computability. But not Turing computability. Computer scientists have defined all kinds of machines far more powerful than Turing machines. They’ve been around for decades, but philosophers still falsely think computers are just Turing machines. Philosophers need to wake up to the theory of transfinite computation.

Some people hate the idea that human persons are computable. So they turn to mystery. They say the mind is mysterious; consciousness is mysterious. You become mysterious to yourself. You can’t understand yourself. This failure of self-understanding means that you’re powerless in the face of your own self. You become your own worst enemy. To use some Plotinian imagery, you fall within your self from self-clarity to self-obscurity. You become a book which is no longer capable of reading itself, which cannot see itself. This often leads to mind-body dualism: the mind is the uncanny shadow which cannot be known. Dualists never provide any positive description of the mind; they only ever define it negatively, as the non-physical, the uncomputable. It’s like a negative theology of the self. You lie hidden in a sophistical cloud of unknowing.

Anti-digitalism seems to me to have much in common with Calvinism. It goes along with free will, total depravity, and damnation. Why can’t you understand yourself? Because your mind is perverted by sin. And, since you are mysterious to yourself, you cannot help yourself. We’ll never learn how to improve our minds. We can only hope for salvation through submission to some higher power, some wrathful deity. I don’t buy it and I don’t want it. Digitalism opposes Calvinism. We can understand ourselves and we can help ourselves. We are not sinners in the hands of an angry God.

Digitalism offers you clarity about yourself. And that clarity is enlightening. It’s a spiritually progressive position. Socrates used to quote the Delphic oracle, which said: Know yourself. Digitalism offers you a path to self-knowledge. At every moment of your life, you are identical with your body. Your life is a process composed of bodies like a book is composed of pages or a movie is composed of still photos. Your body is a finite digital computer. At every moment of your life, you are identical with a biochemical robot. Your mind is a computation running at the molecular level in every cell in your body. Here’s a path to humility: we’re all human robots.

Digitalism provides you with paths to clarity about yourself. You learn about yourself by applying the scientific method to yourself, by studying your genes and brain. And you can learn about yourself through self-tracking, self-quantification. Digitalism also provides you with a path to life after death. Your life is like a book of numbers; but these numbers define a program which writes other books. Digitalism provides us with ways to scientifically improve ourselves. We can become transhuman and superhuman. We can develop naturalistic religions which aim at spiritual self-improvement.

3:AM: How do you analyse the ontology of software – you say software objects aren’t abstract – so what are they?

ES: Some people say software objects are abstract, or that they’re made out of ones and zeros. That’s spectacularly false. All the software in our universe is entirely physical. It’s concrete, in the sense that it exists in space and time, it has causal powers, it’s made of material stuff like photons or electrons. Software objects are stored in material computer memories. They have locations on semiconductor chips or physical disks. My digital pictures and songs are files stored on my magnetic hard drive, or on optical disks. All physical. All fragile. All precious.

Some people argue that our universe is a software process running on some deeper hardware substrate, on some big cosmic computer. If that’s true, then photons and electrons are just software objects stored in the memory of that titanic machine. And since all the physics of our universe runs on the cosmic computer, that computer isn’t physical. But the cosmic computer, and all the software objects running on it, are still concrete structures. They participate in spatial and temporal orders relative to each other, they have causal powers, and they are individual instances of abstract patterns. But they aren’t abstract patterns. They aren’t purely mathematical objects.

If there are any cosmic computers, then they are much like cells. The analogy comes from the mathematics of complexity. Cosmic computers climb Mount Improbable just like cellular computers. Leibniz thought that reality is a sequence of self-reproducing books. So cosmic computers are also books which contain instructions for writing books. And they have the power to write more complex books, which are other cosmic computers. As simpler cosmic books write more complex cosmic books, the universes described by these books also grow more complex. So here we are.

3:AM: Could we all be digital ghosts already? Is your view a technological version of Idealism or Pythagorean ‘eternal return of the same-ism’? Is this part of your religious naturalist project? Why is it important for you that atheists put together a religious viewpoint and pick up older doctrines like reincarnation and resurrection? What’s Platonic atheism and why do you think it’s a good idea? Does your Platonism mean you’re not a physicalist – so why aren’t you at least a dualist? (Pause for reboot)

ES: Old tribal religions involve magical gods, immaterial people with superhuman powers, invisible agents that act in our universe but are not subject to natural laws. Any religion which involves magical gods is theistic. Its gods are shadow people, sophists haunting the universe. Every theistic religion is a way in which nature falls from self-clarity into self-obscurity. But there are no shadow people acting in the world using magic. Should we all become secular humanists? Religions play really important roles in human life. They help organize our emotions and our societies. And they are very deep ways of thinking, like operating systems for human robots.

Secular humanists think religions will go way. I don’t think that will ever happen. But it might happen that the tribal religions will go away. The New Atheists have pointed to lots of the bad things associated with tribal religions. Most of these bad things seem to flow from the idea that the gods are superior people in our social networks. They become high status tribal leaders violently enforcing tribal customs. We can all hope that tribal religions can be replaced with more life-affirming religions. Many religious ideas can be thought of without any reference to magical agents. There are ways to think about gods in purely natural terms. Natural gods aren’t mysterious. They’re just cosmic computers. It would be senseless to worship them. They won’t cure your cancer or help your family business. They won’t help your nation win a war. They just produce the lawful physical world. Natural gods are divine robots running divine programs. They are books writing more complex books. They evolved just like all other robots.

DrawingHands

Although religions probably don’t need magical gods, they probably do need some morally significant theory of life after death. Life after death is essential for a complete conception of justice, as well as for a complete conception of human self-realization. We need it to satisfy our demands for justice and flourishing. Since human persons are rational moral agents, these are the deepest demands we can make. They come from our very being. If they can’t be satisfied, there’s really no point in being human. Without life after death, we have no reason to live at all. Our lives are futile, meaningless, absurd. The existentialists thought we could find meaning without life after death, without cosmic justice and full human flourishing, but I doubt it.

Fortunately, life after death doesn’t require any magical gods or magical souls. It doesn’t require anything supernatural. You can think about it in purely naturalistic terms, involving only natural things and natural laws. If my life is a book written by a program running on a cosmic computer, then, after I die, that program can run again on some other cosmic computer. And my person-program can be upgraded. It can be debugged and enhanced. Digital theories of life after death are naturalistic. And the arguments for these digital theories come from studying the sciences of information and complexity. Life after death comes from mathematics, not from mystery.

Life after death comes from thinking of yourself as a digital robot. Where did that robot come from? It came from evolution. But evolution is algorithmic. It’s a massive parallel distributed computation that climbs Mount Improbable. You evolved in our universe. So where did our universe come from? Our universe is complex, so it also evolved. It was also generated by an algorithmic process. But algorithms are purely mathematical objects. They are Platonic forms of processes. They are the ultimate hardware objects, and, when they run themselves, they generate concrete software objects.

Any morally satisfactory atheism is a Platonic atheism. Platonic atheism involves lots of logic and math. It involves deontic logics of value and modal logics of possibility. If you’re a Platonist in this logical sense, then you can develop metaphysically deep theories of value. These theories are axiarchic. You don’t need magical gods for the foundations of value or morality. And you don’t need magical gods for justice or flourishing. It all follows from the logics of value and possibility.

3:AM: Aristotle thought the soul is the form of the body. Do Aristotlelians like Aquinas help understand your notions regarding computerized selves?

ES: Plato, in the Republic and the Timaeus, thought of the soul as having parts much like the body. The structure of the soul parallels that of the body. He also thought of the soul as a city, which has political parts. Aristotle also talked about the parts of the soul. And he argued that the soul is the form of the body. His theory of the soul makes sense in modern scientific terms. Souls are dynamical forms, like programs. Just as complex programs are composed of simpler programs, so complex souls are composed of simpler souls. You learn about your soul by studying the functions performed by the parts of your body, all the way down to the functions performed by your genes.

The Aristotelian idea was taken up by Aquinas. Much of the Thomistic theory of the soul is anatomical or physiological. The different parts of the soul regulate the different organs in the body. A Thomistic theory of the soul, if worked out scientifically, is a digitalist theory. Unfortunately, Aquinas also thought of the soul as a substance. By doing that, he sets the stage for Cartesian soul-body dualism. By treating the soul as a simple immaterial substance, Descartes plunges it into obscurity. Mathematics is clarity; but simple immaterial substances are opaque to mathematical rationality. The fall of the soul is the fall from mathematical self-clarity into mysterian self-obscurity. Like the sophist, the soul becomes an incomprehensible shadow.

Against soul-body dualism, Nietzsche returned in many ways to the Platonic idea that the soul was composed of parts much like the body. And the Aristotelian view that the soul is the form of the body gets taken up by the functionalists like Lycan. Digitalists like Moravec and Kurzweil continue these ideas. But these biological ideas have cosmic applications. Many writers, from Cicero to Hume, argued that the universe resembles an organism. So if the soul is the form of the body, then the universe also has a soul. The world-soul is a program which decomposes into subprograms. It contains the programs of particles, planets, genes, cells, dolphins, humans, and transhumans.

197818845113320.

3:AM: Does your view of the infinite bodies and nature link up with your views about Nietzschean optimism and plenitude?

ES: I first read Nietzsche in college, when I was still very much a Christian. I fell in love with his thought right away, and it helped me get out of Christianity. I owe much of my thought to him. From him I learned to be skeptical about consciousness and identity. I came to embrace Lewisian counterpart theory after thinking about Nietzsche’s eternal return: you have a counterpart on every cycle. He’s one of the first transhumanists. And he was interested in new religions beyond Christianity.

I found his idea of the will to power very interesting, especially when he used it to develop his philosophy of nature. But nature isn’t powered by any will – that’s a residual supernatural idea. If we get rid of the mental aspect of the will to power, what remains is a Leibnizian striving. Every thing strives to surpass itself in every possible way. And if the world is will to power, why would it just roll around on the floor? Wouldn’t it keep rising to ever higher levels of valuable intensity? The will to power doesn’t chase its own tail; on the contrary, it is a wheel that rolls uphill. The will to power overcomes the spirit of gravity. It climbs Mount Improbable. Absolute affirmation doesn’t imply the eternal return of the same; it implies that every striving ultimately succeeds.

The eternal return posits a series of exactly similar universes. Copies of copies, with no variation. But the will to power, thought of as a pure striving, refutes this exact copying. The copies become upgrades. The universe really is a Leibnizian self-reproducing book, which improves itself as it rewrites itself. Every universe is surpassed by a greater universe, in which the striving expresses itself more intensely. And if the will to power is worked out to its full extent, every universe is surpassed in every possible way. This is a more coherent way of working out Nietzsche’s thoughts about plenitude. The will to power overcomes the eternal return of the same. It defeats the shadow, which drags you down into self-sameness. It implies that your present life will be surpassed by ever greater lives in future greater iterations of the cosmic cycle.

3:AM: Which is closer to your view of naturalist religion – Buddhism, drugs, Magic or a Rave?

ES: Foucault wrote about technologies of the self. And Pierre Hadot talked about old Stoic practices of self-transformation. So naturalistic religions will include reliable technologies of self-transformation, which we can use to make ourselves better people. The Buddhists have a notion of enlightenment, but so did the Stoics and Epicureans. The goal, the ideal condition of human life, is to become what the ancients called a sage. A sage has gratitude for the past, serenity in the present, and hope for the future.

Becoming a sage is hard work. But here’s where transhumanism comes in: we can use our scientific knowledge of human physiology to help. We can develop technologies which will help us become sages, technologies of enlightenment. These are not quick-fixes. They are like medical tools. Using them involves discipline and practice. But if you’re mysterious to yourself, like the anti-digitalists say, then you’ll never be able to develop technologies of enlightenment. You’ll always fail. You’ll need a magical god to save you; you’ll need to bow down to that god. But such gods are shadows. Digitalism provides us with paths to naturalistic religions beyond shadow gods.

A naturalistic religion will have all sorts of disciplines. It will include meditative practices, such as mindfulness meditation derived from Buddhism. There’s been a lot of good work done recently on the benefits of mindfulness meditation. And the New Stoics are working on reviving old Stoic practices. But these also include practices of diet and exercise. They are ascetic practices. Asceticism means self-discipline through spiritual exercises. It doesn’t mean Puritanical self-denial. I think naturalistic religion will include a positive asceticism, which helps us lead deeper lives.

But what about drugs? You can’t get enlightenment just by popping a pill. But people have long argued that using certain psychoactive molecules can help us get closer to our spiritual goals. These drugs are entheogens. They mainly include psilocybin, mescaline, ayahuasca, salvia divinorum. Maybe they include LSD, MDMA, and cannabis. Tragically, these drugs are all too often abused in recreational contexts which aren’t spiritual or religious in any sense. That kind of abuse is unethical, illegal, and very dangerous. I’m entirely opposed to it. If entheogens are going to be used for religious or spiritual purposes, then they have to be used ethically and on the basis of real scientific and medical research. Right now there is very good research being done on the uses of psilocybin in order to help people move towards self-transcendence. But more research needs to be done. And it may be that the traditional entheogens are not the best. Better brain science may help us find safer and more effective entheogens. So I think a naturalistic religion will eventually involve entheogens.

Raves are really interesting from a religious standpoint. There’s a fine book, by Robin Sylvan, called Trance Formation, which talks about raves as religious practices. Rave dancing leads to hyper-arousal trances, which produce all kinds of beneficial effects. Of course, classical rave culture just degenerated into a hedonistic party culture. There’s nothing spiritual about that. But for awhile in the 1990s or 2000s, rave culture really did look like a new religious movement. The music and lights at raves use all sorts of digital technology. Electronic dance music is often highly mathematically structured, linking it to Platonism and Pythagoreanism. And today we have yoga raves. A naturalistic religion will include something like spiritually-oriented raves. But they’ll be oriented towards self-transcendence rather than mere self-gratification.

A naturalistic religion can really have genuinely religious ceremonies. Although I would not say that Burning Man is religious, it could become religious. And if it did, it might become religious in a very new and powerful way. Many people have written about religious interpretations of Burning Man. As I was developing my ideas about religious naturalism, I realized that Burning Man symbolizes many of those ideas very well. Of course, there are some problems with Burning Man. How it will go forward is unclear. But it hints at very exciting possibilities for religious life.

Magic is either defined so vaguely that it’s meaningless, or it’s defined in ways that make it clearly unscientific. If it’s not supported by science, it has no place in any naturalistic religion. And magic really is the final fall into self-obscurity. It relies on the worst aspects of mind-body dualism. Naturalistic religions want light, not shadow. Should naturalists reject all pagan ideas? Magic plays a central role in many Neopagan religions, such as Wicca. It would be interesting if Wicca could be divorced from magic. Many Wiccan ceremonies, on the eight days of the Wheel of the Year, are very moving. But they need to be naturalized. It’s possible that Neopaganism could become naturalized. There are Atheopagans and Humanistic Pagans. But they’re a minority. So I don’t see much role for Neopaganism in any naturalistic religion. But I do think the Wheel of the Year could be incorporated into naturalistic religion. Plenty of atheists already celebrate the winter solstice. They just need to add the other solar holidays.

9783642325595

3:AM: You argue that Dawkins posits a version of the Titanic Hypothesis which is a species of theogony. What is this hypothesis and why is it significant? You say this is a challenge to traditional theism, but doesn’t it also make a move that scientists might be uncomfortable with – the idea of a superhuman intelligence designing our universe seems to cancel out the idea of the blind watchmaker and seems to set up the idea of an infinite regress of these designers – after all, if we need one to explain our universe then why don’t we need them for every universe – and then, where is evolutionary theory after that?

ES: I really love Dawkins. I think his writings contain a fascinating evolutionary metaphysics. But Dawkins often fails to draw the conclusions of his own arguments. He doesn’t work out his ideas systematically. I’m interested in systematizing his deeper evolutionary principles into a coherent metaphysical picture. Dawkins makes heavy use of computational ideas in his biology. He thinks of organisms as digital robots. All of his ideas have cosmological applications. Natural gods are biological.

At the root of nature, there exists some simple first cause. Dawkins himself affirms the existence of a simple first cause which triggers a self-bootstrapping process of cosmic evolution. Why not refer to this first cause as a god? Because gods are supernatural? They don’t have to be. This simple natural god contains only the power of making more complex versions of itself. Simpler gods beget more complex gods in a process which resembles asexual reproduction. Selective pressures within the gods themselves drive their offspring towards greater complexity. The gods climb Mount Improbable. The evolving gods are digital organisms. They are self-reproducing cosmic computers running genetic programs. Some of their genes define their reproductive algorithms. But as they grow more complex, their genomes gain phenotypic genes; their genomes start to define their cosmic bodies. But those bodies are universes.

As earthly organisms evolve, designers emerge. Spiders design webs; termites design mounds; bees design hives; birds design nests; beavers design dams and lodges; and humans design all sorts of technologies. Dawkins says design is not cumulative, but he’s spectacularly wrong. Almost everything Dawkins says about design is strikingly and obviously false. An evolutionary biologist like Dawkins, who has written about living designers, should know that design never triggers an infinite regress of ever more complex things. Design triggers a finite regress of ever simpler things. The history of technology shows that design is cumulative. But it’s cumulative because it’s Darwinian: it proceeds through blind variation and selective retention. Any evolutionary process that climbs Mount Improbable becomes increasingly computationally complex; it becomes intelligent; it starts to design its own internal computations.

A naturalist can run the cosmic design argument like this: Looking at a watch, we infer the existence of a human designer; looking at the universe, we infer the existence of a divine designer; but all known designers evolved; therefore, the divine designer of our universe evolved. If our universe has a divine designer, then it was produced by some process that started out simple and gradually accumulated complexity. So that divine designer isn’t the Abrahamic God. That God doesn’t exist at all. Abrahamic theology gets replaced with an evolutionary theology. It gets replaced with a digital theology. Digital theology is highly mathematical. It studies the evolutionary algorithms running across a landscape of cosmic complexity. Hume discussed the idea that gods beget gods, and that they get better and better in the art of worldmaking. They make worlds whose physical laws support Darwinian evolution by natural selection.

Since it is ultimately based on purely mathematical ideas, the Dawkinsian theory of the evolution of complexity applies to everything. Metaphysical speculation makes Dawkins uncomfortable. And that’s too bad, because you defeat bad speculation only with good speculation. The Abrahamic God, like all magical gods, can’t be defeated by empirical evidence. Magical gods, and their religions, are immune to contrary evidence. The Abrahamic God is the ultimate shadow; it’s the ultimate simple immaterial substance, the absolute mystery. To use some Platonic language, it’s the fall of the Good from self-clarity to self-obscurity. You defeat shadows with mathematical light. Dawkinsian ideas can be used to develop a very powerful evolutionary metaphysics that can function as a positive alternative to Abrahamic mystery. It can be used to develop Einsteinian religions that function as positive alternatives to supernatural religions. Dawkinsian metaphysics can be used to develop naturalistic religions.

3:AM: And finally, are there five books you could recommend that would take us further into your philosophical world?

ES: I recommend Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, Lewis’s On the Plurality of Worlds, Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Don Crosby’s A Religion of Nature, and Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near.

Photo on 2015-09-05 at 23.25

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Richard Marshall is still biding his time.

Buy his book here to keep him biding!

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, February 20th, 2016.