A Techno-Ramadan Proposal

UPDATE: This article has now been officially re-published by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET).

UPDATE #2: This article has now been officially re-published by the Lifeboat Foundation.

I don’t consider myself as someone with nostalgia for the past. Certainly the past is fascinating and worth studying – historically, archaeologically, astronomically, etc. – but I don’t consider it worth pursuing again, all while abandoning everything we’ve achieved thus far. I reach to the stars, though keep a distant memory of what I’ve learned in the past.

One of my fears, however, as we continue journeying into the exponentially brightening light of the future, is that we – as a global, interconnected community – lose sight of the reasoning why we’ve taken up the future rather than the past. I advocate abandoning neither the future, nor the past. Reason being because the past plays an important role in shaping our future. We lose sight of the past, we may just lose sight of our present and future.

While I fear I may be at err for quoting such a dooms-dayer publication, George Orwell’s famous book Nineteen Eighty Four teaches the lesson, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” Orwell is the last person I’d prefer learning lessons from, but in this respect he’s correct.

I am a Transhumanist. My goal of the future is an enhanced one, where our species transcend their biological limitations by evolving via science and technology. I consider Luddism, Malthusianism, Nihilism, Primitivism and Religious Fundamentalism as a direct enemy to the Transhumanist cause – an enemy of the future, not to mention the present day.

However, I believe their preference for nature and the past isn’t completely miscue. The past, as I’ve said before, plays an important role in our future, just as I’d argue that nature plays a subsequent role as well.

I’d argue that the nostalgia for the past in which Luddites, Primitivists, etc. have is the direct result of a misinformed understanding of what the past truly was like, thus a lack of appreciation in how the present science and technology helped us become a smarter, healthier and safer peoples.

This is why I fear what I fear – I fear of our people losing their way as Luddites, Primitivists, etc. have in the past and present. In consequence, we start deluding ourselves of a misguided future inspired from a phony past. As we continue pressing forward in developing a bright future with the help of science and technology, we should also dedicate some time in stopping what we’re doing, to look and think back, and to ensure ourselves that we’re not making mistakes we’d committed beforehand.

What I propose is something similar to what Muslims of the Islamic faith practice every year throughout the world – they call it Ramadan. Let me first explain that I am not religious whatsoever. I just happen to be friends with several Muslims and know first hand how happy they are once their month-long fasting is complete. You could say they even grow a higher appreciation of what they have as a result of temporarily letting it all go for this event of theirs.

A month long fasting? Surely they wouldn’t survive not eating and drinking liquids for an entire month! To which you’re correct. It’s not entirely a month long. In reality, Ramadan adheres to certain regulations, such as:

  • Just before dawn they have a pre-fast meal, known as suhoor;
  • Just after sunset they have a fast-breaking meal, known as iftar; and
  • If you are ill, pregnant, a diabetic, etc., then the month long fasting is not required.

Understand, I am not advocating that Transhumanists stop eating, though I hear the biohacker community have a certain fascination for what is known as intermittent fasting. What I am advocating here is a time of the year we take a step back and look at everything we’ve accomplished and for what reasons. For the Muslim community, Ramadan plays the role of relaxation, remembering all that they acquire, and an understanding for those who may be less fortunate.

For the Muslim community, letting go of their food for a month, which they work hard for and thrive on, is their means of gathering a greater perspective on why they are as they are today. It’s also, of course, a way of temporarily letting go of materialist desires, which in turn helps them sympathize with those less fortunate and subsequently look out for them more often.

For us, as Transhumanists, our means of thriving isn’t so much food than it is our scientific endeavors and technological developments. While I wouldn’t go so far as recommending an entire month of temporarily letting go of our scientific projects, technology, etc., it also wouldn’t hurt us to at least dedicate a day, or a week, away from it all.

Back in early October of this year, Kris Notaro, who is the Managing Director of the nonprofit think-tank Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, decided to go on a week long techno-fasting. To simply get away from it all…temporarily, of course. At first I found this amusing, poking fun at it, sending him an image-based observation of how his techno-fasting will go:

The more I think about it, though, the more I then realize how we were both correct! He had every right in dedicating a week off from everything, to sit back and really take in perspective of it all. Just as I feel I’m correct that the techno-empowering feeling would be what you’d succumb to as a result.

For Muslims, eating little as they once did many years ago enhances their appreciation of what they now have in contrast to what they didn’t have bef0rehand. I believe we could achieve a similar feat by temporarily limiting, if not completely withholding, ourselves from the science and technology we thrive on.

A day, or a week, where we don’t use the technology we take for granted today would, in my opinion, enhance our appreciation for said technology, and possibly even enhance our ambitions through a greater understanding of what it was like before science and technology came to our aid. Maybe a month away from it all wouldn’t be a bad idea either!? Not as a means of showing us how great the past was, but quite the contrary – in retrospect, we’d come to remind ourselves why we’re doing what we’re doing and why the past isn’t something we should have misguided nostalgia over.

There are reasons why we stopped going bare feet in favor of shoes; there are reasons why we abandoned primitive herbal alternative meds for real, evidence-based medication and healthcare; there are reasons why we abandoned the typewriter for the keyboard; snail mail for email; corded phones for cellphones and Skype; etc. etc. etc.

To lose perspective of why we did what we did could result in everything we despise – misguided tendencies of nostalgia for the past, adhering to both the naturalistic fallacy and appeal to nature.

So I propose a techno-ramadan! A time each year that we all simply let go of it all and really breathe in, per se, everything we’ve done, are doing, and going to do; a time of deep meditation and reflection – Buddhist cyborgs! Perhaps then we could achieve what our enemies have failed in – a true understanding of the past, present, and future, insofar as we learn from and enhance our lessons of the past to ensure a much brighter Transhumanist future.

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