The Purpose of Conferences?

Jordan Ginsberg wasn't overly impressed with the recent World Transhumanist Association (WTA) conference:

The best way I can think of to describe this year's TransVision conference is likening it to a tattoo convention where the only things on display are bottles of ink, needles, and transparent paper. Technically, yes, those are some of the base elements involved in the craft - but on their own, they tell you absolutely nothing about the subject. More than that, even for beginners, they're a useless starting point.

What is the purpose of conferences for distributed, loosely organized advocacy groups - be they futurist, healthy life extension, or other? Clearly only a fraction of those associated with the group attend, and even the phrase "associated with the group" describes a continuum of shades of involvement and sympathy. Pro-technology futurists, like transhumanists and healthy life extension advocates - or actual scientists performing actual work - are largely self-organizing. Conferences are a high-profile manifestation of this process of organization, just as they always have been. Whether conferences are aimed at deepening the shade of involvement of periphery associates, cementing ties between core activists and advocates, recruiting the uninvolved, or even necessary at all is largely a function of the group involved. I'm not sure what the intended purpose of the WTA conference was, but Ginsberg was expecting something different.

Transhumanism has bled into the mainstream in any number of ways over the past two decades, in much the same way as the culture of science fiction, but has somehow managed to retain true minority status. To a certain degree, I believe this is because founding transhumanist advocates and thinkers of the present day movement have already succeeded in their goals. Ideas - such as radical life extension - that were once firmly fringe are now seriously discussed and considered far and wide. People have picked up the ball and are running with it. More traditional means of advocacy, education and funding to make the future real are now the name of the game, and developing the technologies of healthy life extension has become no different in practice than working to cure disease.

The 21st century is here - all change, all the time. But we wouldn't be in this presently favorable position for the future of healthy life extension without the advocacy of transhumanist groups over the past few decades.


I think you're confusing causation with correlation here. I love transhumanist organizations (like Extropy and WTA) and I'm proud of what they've done. But I don't think much of what they've done has actually contributed to the current attention transhumanism/enhancement is receiving. Instead, I think they have predicted these trends, without causally contributing to them. Publications like Technology Review and Popular Science discuss enhancements today because enhancement technologies are becoming real, not because California techno-topians preached about them in the 80s. If Extropy or WTA had never existed, these publications would still probably be giving attention to enhancement technologies. But I'm glad they do exist.

Posted by: Kip Werking at August 14th, 2005 1:05 PM

I'm certain there is a (many-pointed) feedback loop between advocacy, public support and funding and direction in science. The uncertainty is in the degree of feedback and the timescales over which it operates - but its there. If there was no causal relationship between early advocacy and later science, then we are left with no real explanation as to why certain possibilities are funded and accomplished and others are not.

Posted by: Reason at August 14th, 2005 1:21 PM

..."we are left with no real explanation as to why certain possibilities are funded and accomplished and others are not."

It goes something like this...

First visionaries have visions, then advocates advocate, then markets market, then industries industrialize, then the united remnants of defeated totalitarian regimes turn the industries into socio-political weapons and throw grants at anyone willing to murder millions of their enemies' babies in the name of medicine when all they have to do to fight disease is eat more fruits and vegetables and practice caloric restriction, but since they can not finance subversive international operations through proper dieting they hire scientists to research price-gougingly patentable synthetic drugs while firing scientists who find results they do not like.

Even though several women have died from it, a host of company researchers say it is safe to use the abortifacient RU-486 developed by Hoechst AG, previously known as IG Farben, the maker of the Zyklon-B gas used in NAZI death camps.

Posted by: Rev. Thomas S. Painter (R) at August 15th, 2005 3:15 PM

Thomas Painter:

This is not an appropriate forum for discussing the abortion issue. As you can see from looking over this website, it is for discussion and advocacy for the scientific conquest of aging and death.

I suggest that you seek out more appropriate venues for discussion of abortion politics.

Posted by: Kurt at August 15th, 2005 3:23 PM
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