3 minutes | Apr 28, 2023
What Is Artificial Intelligence and Consciousness?
Few use consistent coherent vocabulary to talk about AI. In particular, we tend to be careless or ignorant about important distinctions between intelligence and consciousness, and about the inexhaustibly vast possibility space for kinds and degrees of both. There’s not necessarily one right definition of “intelligence” or “consciousness.” But some effort at consistent careful use of these words would help more of us understand each other better when discussing our hopes and fears, and perspectives on practicalities, related to AI. When I think of intelligence, and when I use the word, I have in mind the capacity to achieve goals. This concept is tightly coupled with concepts of anatomy and structure, or the information of matter. Bodies are more and less intelligent in infinite variety. When I think of consciousness, in contrast, I have in mind the capacity for experience. This concept encompasses the concepts of sensing and feeling. Because we can only ever observe our own, consciousness is at once most familiar and most mysterious. As I use them, “intelligence” and “consciousness” are orthogonal concepts. We can imagine super intelligence that’s unconscious. And we can imagine deep consciousness that’s unintelligent. A subset of intelligence seems to correlate with focused or self-aware consciousness. But we can also imagine self-unaware and unfocused consciousness. We might experience this to some extent as “brain fog.” Beyond that, in anesthesia and death, we might think that consciousness is altogether annihilated. Or we might imagine de-individuation into panpsychism. Conscious or not, AI is clearly intelligent, as understood within the framework I’ve described here. It has capacity to achieve goals. In some ways, AI is far more intelligent than humans. In other ways, humans are more intelligent, at least for now. This isn’t controversial. Nor is it an inherent compliment to attribute mere intelligence to AI. Per the framework I’ve described, even bodies as simple as flush toilets are intelligent. Their anatomy works to maintain a level of water within a tank. They have capacity to achieve that goal. More complimentary it would be to attribute general intelligence to AI. When we consider this, we usually imagine that human intelligence is general intelligence. We have capacity to achieve many goals, including creation of flush toilets. And we would compare AI to ourselves. But the possibility space of intelligence — the possibility space of anatomy and structure and information — is vastly larger than even the most diverse expressions of human biology. So it’s not at all clear that humans are the best measure of general intelligence. And yet it remains practical to compare AI with humans, even if for no other reason, because we are humans. And many of us are increasingly wondering whether and to what extent AI already has or soon will surpass our intelligence in ways that will make our lives better or worse.
14 minutes | Apr 6, 2023
AI is taking over the world, it seems. ChatGPT is doing homework. Midjourney is revolutionizing art. And Copilot is writing code. For those who haven’t been paying attention, it may seem like all of this has come out of nowhere. Suddenly, anyone with an Internet connection can have a conversation with an AI that would pass most historical conceptions of the Turing Test. And entire industries that were once safely out of reach from legacy information technology are now being transformed. Even for those of us who’ve been paying attention, even anticipating such advances, there’s still something surreal about it all. It’s no wonder that some people have become deeply troubled by the change. Maybe that it includes you. Or maybe it’s about to include you, as you read the next sentence. The troubled people, in this case, include not a small number of experts in the field of AI and adjacent areas of study. A noteworthy example is Eliezer Yudkowsky. He’s a decision theorist and founder of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI), a non-profit organization that focuses on the development of safe AI – or what he would describe as AI that’s aligned with human values. Eliezer recently appeared on Bankless Shows, where he was interviewed about recent developments in AI and proclaimed quite seriously, “we’re all gonna die.” [ Visit the webpage to view the media. ] In his serious concern with AI, Eliezer is far from alone. Future of Life Institute The Future of Life Institute (FLI) is a non-profit research organization that aims to mitigate existential risks facing humanity, particularly those related to emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and nuclear weapons. FLI recently published an open letter regarding AI experiments. As of today, it has over 14K signatures, including many from active researchers. The letter calls for a six-month pause on the development of artificial intelligence systems that are more powerful than the newest version of ChatGPT. It argues that AI labs should use this pause to develop safety protocols, which should then be audited and overseen by independent experts. The letter also calls for development of robust AI governance systems, including regulation of highly capable AI systems, and liability for AI-caused harm. It argues that humanity can enjoy a flourishing future with AI, but only if we plan and manage its development carefully. Eliezer Yudkowsky Eliezer didn’t sign FLI’s open letter. Does he think it was asking for too much? No. To the contrary, as he wrote in an editorial on the TIME website, “pausing AI developments isn’t enough.” “We need to shut it all down,” continued Eliezer. Why? He argues that it’s difficult to predict thresholds that will result in the creation of superhuman AI, and that there’s risk that labs could unintentionally cross critical thresholds without noticing. If they do, speculates Eliezer, the most likely outcome is that everyone on Earth will die. Eliezer argues that, absent the ability to imbue AI with care for sentient life, there’s high risk that superhuman AI will not do what humans want. While it’s possible in principle to create an AI that cares for sentient life, current science and technology aren’t adequate. And the result of conflict with superhuman intelligence would likely be a total loss for humanity. Eliezer observes that there’s no plan for how to build superhuman AI and survive the consequences. The current plans of AI labs, such as OpenAI and DeepMind, are insufficient. So we urgently need a more serious approach to mitigating the risks of superhuman AI. And that could take a lot longer than six months, possibly even decades, as illustrated by efforts to address similar risks associated with nuclear weapons. But not everyone agrees with Eliezer. Max More Max More is a philosopher and futurist. He’s best known for his work as a leading proponent of Transhumanism. Max has written extensively about the ethics of emerging technology. And he recently wrote an article, “ Against AI Doomerism, For AI Progress.” “The 6-month moratorium is a terrible idea,” wrote Max. “Tougher measures are even worse, especially bombing data centers and jailing people for working on AI (don’t tell me that’s not implied).” Max observes that, for centuries, people have been predicting global disasters, whether from volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, overpopulation, or climate disasters. But they’ve consistently been wrong. Humans have a tendency to fantasize about apocalypse, which sells books and movies. So we should be skeptical of apocalyptic claims, and require strong evidence before taking them seriously. Max argues that a moratorium is unlikely to be effective because countries like China and Russia are unlikely to comply. They may even take advantage of the pause to gain an advantage in AI research. He suggests that a better approach would be to encourage a degree of corporate confidentiality in AI research to prevent bad actors from catching up too quickly, while still allowing for progress in the field. Max suggests that a moratorium may actually cause new problems. For example, it could result in a “hardware overhang” that would lead to even more rapid advances in AI once the moratorium ends. And a moratorium could pose significant socioeconomic costs, including hindering progress in biomedical research and life extension. Incremental and continuous progress may be safer and more effective. Max doesn’t oppose all forms of regulation, however. He agrees with the CEO of OpenAI, Sam Altman, who has suggested that optimal decisions will depend on the details of ongoing development in AI. He opposes connecting powerful AI to potentially dangerous systems, and favors special-purpose AI over general AI. And he advocates for reasonable degrees of transparency in the industry. Finally, Max also challenges the idea that superintelligent AI is likely to harm humanity. He mentions the economic principle of comparative advantage as incentive for cooperation. And he points out that, even if humans wouldn’t have comparative advantage, there would probably be many competing AIs with conflicting goals. Thus, he concludes, the threat of a singleton superintelligent AI is greatly exaggerated. AI Risk Is Momentous I generally agree with Eliezer Yudkowsky about AI risk. It’s a momentous issue. This is a momentous time. Unfortunately, he’s probably also right about the eventual destruction of humanity. That is, unless superintelligence aligned with human values already exists. And, if that’s the case, we may have a real chance at avoiding extinction and becoming superintelligent ourselves. The reasoning behind this is expressed in the New God Argument. Such potential corresponds with Max More’s expectation that superhuman competition would probably lead to superhuman cooperation. That’s actually the gist of the Compassion Argument. So far as I know, Max stops there. But the practical and logical consequences don’t stop there. While I agree with Eliezer about the risk, I disagree with his pessimism and recommendation. To be clear, I don’t think it’s pessimistic to account for confirmed fact. And I don’t think it’s pessimistic to acknowledge associated risk. Rather, I think it’s pessimistic to jump from confirmed fact and acknowledged risk to defeatist rhetoric. We’re still here. We can still learn. And we can still work. So long as these things are true, defeatist rhetoric is counter-productive. Regarding Eliezer’s recommended moratorium, it almost certainly wouldn’t stop many secretive entities (or, as Max points out, even some powerful not-so-secretive entities) from proceeding with development of more powerful AI. Some have suggested that the costs of proceeding are high enough to make secrecy essentially impossible. I’m skeptical of that. Hardware costs are declining, software algorithms are improving, and the world is stubbornly more complex than most advocates of centralized authority would like to acknowledge. That said, here are some important related ideas that I’ve learned from Eliezer and others like him over the years: Machine consciousness is not required for machine intelligence, which is already substantially achieved. The possibility space of intelligence is so vast that humans aren’t intelligent in most possible ways, so we may not be the best measure of general intelligence. Some risk arises from powerful machine intelligence that is aligned with human intelligence. Most risk arises from powerful machine intelligence that is misaligned with human intelligence. I want to emphasize, again, that I consider AI risk to be momentous. And where there’s momentous risk, there should be corresponding thought and action. I don’t know for sure what the details of that action should be. But I’m persuaded, in general terms, that the action should be toward increasing formal decentralization of power. Theology Related to AI Risk A friend asked for my opinion about how Mormon theology relates to AI risk. He was reading an article that I published in the book, “ Religious Transhumanism and Its Critics.” And he came across this passage, originally written in 2015, in which I offered a speculative narrative about the future: “A neurotech revolution begins. We virtualize brains and bodies. Minds extend or transition to more robust substrates, biological and otherwise. As morphological possibilities expand, some warn against desecrating the image of God, and some recall prophecies about the ordinance of transfiguration. Data backup and restore procedures for the brain banish death as we know it. Cryonics patients return to life. And environmental data mining hints at the possibility of modeling history in detail, to the point of extracting our dead ancestors individually. Some say the possibility was ordained, before the world was, to enable us to redeem our dead, perhaps to perform the ordinance of resurrection. Artificial and enhanced minds, similar and alien to human, evolve to superhuman capacity. And malicious superintelligence threatens us with annihilation. Then something special happens: we encounter each other and the personification of our world, instrumented to embody a vas
16 minutes | Feb 27, 2023
Faithful Mormon Transhumanism
A friend is exploring Mormon Transhumanism. He finds it “mind-expanding” and “faith promoting,” and even an “honest, authentic, and unexpectedly practical approach to religion.” But he’s also tentative about it, mostly because his “desire to remain in the mainstream of the Church is strong.” And he wonders whether and how both are possible. This friend isn’t alone. I’ve had the opportunity – really, the good fortune and privilege – to talk with many friends about such perceptions over the years. They recognize the practical power of a Transhumanist approach to our religion. And they wonder how best to take advantage of that power without losing or harming their relationship with the Church and culture that they love and support. I know about this first-hand too, although somewhat differently than some of my friends, who encounter Transhumanism from a place of faith. I had lost my faith when I encountered Transhumanism. And Transhumanism was a major reason that I eventually regained my faith. It probably also contributed substantially to keeping me in the Church. Below are some questions that my friend sent me. Each is followed by some of my thoughts in response. And the thoughts include links to other articles that elaborate more. Hopefully this will be helpful, both for my friend who sent the questions and for other friends (current and future) who read it. Prayer “Do you pray? Who do you pray to? How do you pray?” I pray to God in the name of Christ. That’s the short answer. There are many longer answers. I’ll elaborate a bit. My aspiration is to pray always, as Nephi in the Book of Mormon encourages us to do. I want my thoughts, words, and actions to be prayers – always. I want them always to be expressions of courage toward creation of compassionate worlds, following the example of Jesus Christ. Of course I don’t always live up to this aspiration. But it’s my aspiration nonetheless. And of course I can’t pray always in formal ways. That wouldn’t be practical. But I do pray formally. Most of my formal prayers, from a Mormon perspective, take unsurprising forms. I pray formally at Church, before meals, with family, and with friends. I also participate in formal prayers with persons of other faith traditions, as opportunities permit. When I pray formally, I usually close my eyes. Sometimes I kneel, depending on the context. Again, nothing about this is surprising, from a Mormon perspective. When praying with persons of other faith traditions, I’ll sometimes adopt their formalities, such as holding hands around a table for a prayer before a meal. I pray in the name of Christ. By this, I mean that I try to follow the example of Jesus. And I take seriously his invitation to join him in Christ, taking on that name and role to the best of my ability. And I pray to God. By this, I mean that my intention is directed toward God in the most holistic sense, reflecting the whole breadth of Mormon theology. Principally, that is the creator of our world, who represents our superhuman potential. And it also includes expressions of God in our community and environment, and in me. Prophets “Do you believe that scripture and revelations are knowledge from our creators given to prophets? Do you believe that the our prophets have an elevated interaction with God(s), and receive knowledge from them to guide the church and humanity?” I’ve recently written at length about my perspective on scripture. In summary, I esteem as scripture that which we receive from the Holy Ghost – the sublime esthetic. Of course that includes formal authoritative scripture, when we read it with inspiration. And it also includes any other text, not necessarily with any authoritative weight, when we read with inspiration. I esteem scripture and revelation to be primarily esthetic matters – spiritual matters. They can and should also provide knowledge in the sense of shared edification and understanding. They don’t necessarily provide knowledge in a scientific sense. I esteem prophets to be persons who sense and articulate the Holy Ghost – the sublime esthetic. Their primary function is to provoke us to change for the better, warning us of risks and encouraging us with opportunities. As the New Testament teaches, anyone who expresses their experience of Christ is functioning as a prophet. But not all prophets have authoritative weight. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we formally recognize particular persons and texts as prophets and scriptures. They have authority in the Church. And I support them – or, as we say in the Church, I sustain them. That doesn’t mean that I esteem any of them to be infallible. I support Church authorities, despite whatever imperfections I perceive, for many practical reasons. Those reasons include recognition of the power of solidarity. They include desire toward ever-greater reconciliation, knowing that I need as much grace as anyone else. And they include observation that, even for God, authority is always aspirational and co-created. I don’t think Church authorities inherently have any more or less access to God than anyone else. And I don’t think God only works through Church authorities to guide humanity at large. But I do think Church authorities are uniquely positioned to guide the Church effectively. And I think they do that most effectively, not only when seeking inspiration in solitude, but also while counseling to the best of their ability with all Church members. Miracles “Do you believe that ‘magical’ events and tools like visions, seer stones, etc., are interactions with superhumans who are guiding humanity? Do you believe that the priesthood and ordinances provide power from God to humans — beyond the power that comes from visualization or the placebo effect? Like do you believe in priesthood blessings and miraculous healings — or miracles in general?” The science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once observed that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I have a corollary to his observation. Any sufficiently advanced intelligence is indistinguishable from God. I do believe that apparently magical events and tools can and do exist. From the perspective of many of our ancestors, if they could see us, we already live in a magical world. And from many of our perspectives, if we could see them, our descendants probably will live in a magical world. We trust that the engineering around us, no matter how magical in our experience, has a technical explanation. Maybe we can provide that explanation ourselves to some extent. And we trust that someone else could provide an explanation for the rest of it. Yet that still doesn’t always displace, or even diminish, the experience of magic. In the Mormon tradition, reflecting our scriptures, we often use the word “miracle” to describe such magic. In so doing, we don’t mean that there’s no possible explanation for the experience. At least that’s not what Mormons who are well-versed in our authoritative tradition mean. Rather, we just mean that the experience is miraculous in quality, although surely there’s an explanation that at least God could provide. Joseph Smith provided one of the most thought-provoking accounts of our cosmos. In a revelation that now appears as the 88th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph claimed that law is pervasive throughout space, although law may differ from one space to another. He also described God as comprehending all law, and giving all law. To my understanding, this account is perfectly consistent with our understanding of science and practice of engineering. In science, we seek to understand the laws of the context within which we find ourselves. And in engineering, we seek to create artificial environments that change local experience – local laws. Although this is applicable to all technology, it’s perhaps most obvious when we think about the engineering of computed worlds. For example, think about the new game, Hogwarts Legacy. In that world, people can engage in all kinds of magic that we’re not accustomed to seeing in our world. But Hogwarts Legacy yet remains firmly embedded in our world and its physics. There are of course countless interesting questions about whether and why miracles occur in our world, here or there, now or then. And I can’t address them all here. But, generally speaking, I do trust that we live in a world that is created by superhuman intelligence. And I do trust that they can, within the constraints of their law, make changes to our law. None of this means that I reject consensus scientific theories. To the contrary, I have high esteem for consensus science, and particularly for evolution theory. It’s by far the best explanation for a host of observations related to human origins. But, contrary to what too many too easily suppose, evolution theory is perfectly compatible with the existence and concern of superhuman creators – evolving Gods. I trust that humanity can and should participate in such creation. We are children of God, as the good book says. As children learn to become like their parents, so we should learn to become like God – superhuman creators. That includes learning to console and heal and otherwise create to miraculous extents. Priesthood in itself is not such power. Joseph Smith clearly explained that priesthood in itself is only authority. Power must come naturally by ethical use of authority. Otherwise, authority undermines itself into irrelevance or worse. Placebo is greatly under-appreciated in popular culture. It’s not fake. Placebo is real, or at least a placeholder term for that which is real. And placebo is so powerful that all serious studies in human sciences must account for it in order to be taken seriously. I’ll take all the placebo I can get. But placebo isn’t enough. I also want engineering that leverages whatever we’ve learned from placebo-controlled science. I suspect God works with us along these lines, through a combination of what we might describe as placebo and science. Miracles, whether of consolation or healing or otherwise, may be a combination of the two. And they may involve that which, for us, is at-present only potential science. After all, I
54 minutes | Jan 23, 2023
8 Keys to Transformative Scriptural Understanding
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved scripture. My parents used scripture to teach me to read. As a child and teenager, I read both the Bible and all the Mormon scriptures – large portions of them countless times. And, although less thoroughly, I read scripture from other faith traditions too. Even when I lost my faith as a young adult, scripture continued to fascinate me. At the time, it wasn’t because I maintained a traditional reverence toward scripture. But I still couldn’t help but recognize its exceptional cultural power. And, as it turned out, that recognition ended up playing a prominent role in my eventual return to faith. In part because of faith transitions, and in part informing those transitions, I developed an unusual perspective on scripture. As is typical of the unusual, it provokes diverse and sometimes strong reactions. Some clearly consider my perspective on scripture to be strange, at best – or ridiculous or blasphemous. Others tell me that my perspective on scripture helped change their lives for the better. The latter is how I feel about it. For me, the perspective on scripture that I developed has been nothing short of transformational. It was like a doorway from one world into another, that I didn’t and couldn’t even imagine before walking through it. And the new world is so much bigger, more beautiful, and more wonder-inspiring that I wouldn’t wish to return to the old, even if I could. Reflecting on that, and in response to recurring questions from friends and acquaintances over the years, I thought there would be value in making an effort to articulate something of a framework for my perspective on scripture. In the least, it exercises introspection. But I’m also either arrogant or audacious enough to suppose that it stands a good chance of helping many more people. So, extending the doorway metaphor, I give you eight keys to transformative scriptural understanding. Scripture Is an Expression of Doctrine Christians esteem the Bible to be doctrine, or authoritative teachings. I share in that esteem in a general sense. But some Christians claim that doctrine is limited to the Bible. For them, if a teaching isn’t in the Bible, it’s not doctrine. It has no Christian authority, at least ostensibly. For them, the Bible is the measure of authority. For other Christians, such as I, the Bible is an expression of doctrine, and not the only expression. From our perspective, Christian authority transcends any particular text. The Bible remains important, but that importance is not exclusive. Something else measures the authority of the Bible. In the Bible, Jesus claims, “ My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me.” Jesus is a Jew speaking to Jews, but this doesn’t sound like an appeal to the authority of their Hebrew Bible. And it astonishes some who listen to him, “because he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the teachers of the law.” In the Book of Mormon, Jesus defines his doctrine in these words: “Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine. “And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; … and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me. “And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. … “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. “And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.” As I understand these passages of scripture, they encourage us to recognize doctrine in a core idea, or set of ideas. It is that faith, repentance, and baptism lead to salvation. This is the Gospel or the good news that Jesus teaches, that he attributes to God, and that his disciples echo. For example, Joseph Smith echoes this core doctrine in the Articles of Faith: “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Does that mean that everything else in the scriptures is NOT doctrine? I suggest that the answer to this question depends on how we interpret everything else in the scriptures. Are our interpretations in line with the core doctrine? If so, I would esteem those interpretations as expressions of doctrine. Of course there’s some complexity here. I’ve talked about scripture being an expression of doctrine. But I’ve used scripture to define core doctrine. So even the definition of core doctrine is itself yet another expression of doctrine. And if everything we can say or read about doctrine is only an expression of doctrine, how can we ever know doctrine in itself? Well, on the one hand, you might need to talk with a Platonist about that. Right now, you’re reading the words of a Pragmatist who doesn’t know or care much about things in themselves beyond experience. On the other hand, the scriptures do claim that there is a core doctrine. And they do present that core doctrine as the Gospel of faith, repentance, and baptism leading to salvation. Later, I’ll explore some practical ways to approach consideration of those claims. In the meantime, what if the scriptures are wrong? Scripture Is Fallible Some religious persons consider their scripture to be infallible. They consider the text to be free of any kind of error or shortcoming. I can’t say whether that’s a coherent position in some other religion. But I consider it a rather incoherent position in Christianity, and particularly in Mormonism. Most Christians esteem the Bible to contain knowledge and prophecy. And yet, in the Bible itself, Paul states bluntly that prophecies will cease and knowledge will pass away because both are only partial. Neither is complete. For completeness, he encourages us to look beyond knowledge and prophecy to love. Likewise, the opening section of the Doctrine and Covenants acknowledges the limitations of scripture. Joseph Smith, writing in the voice of God, states: “Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding. “And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known; “And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed; “And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent; “And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.” From those statements, I gather that the authors of scripture and thus the scriptures themselves, have several weaknesses. They err and need instruction in wisdom. They sin and should repent. They lack knowledge and strength, which God helps them gain over time if they are humble. Even the Book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith described as the “ most correct of any book on Earth,” doesn’t claim to be perfect. To the contrary, on its title page, it implicitly acknowledges that it may contain faults that reflect the mistakes of its authors. An infallible book wouldn’t need such a disclaimer. Some Christians reading this, unconvinced by Paul’s blunt acknowledgment that prophecies are always partial, are now frantically flipping through the pages of the good book to Deuteronomy 18: “You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.” But, as it turns out, this is actually a perfect example of the fallibility of scripture. How so? Take a careful look at the story of Jonah, which is also in the Hebrew Bible. In that story, God commands Jonah to proclaim a message that does not take place or come true. Which is it, then? Are prophets always right? Or are prophecies sometimes wrong, perhaps even intentionally? The Bible teaches both. Mormon scripture also includes such contradictions. For example, in the Book of Mormon, Nephi declares: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” Then, in the Doctrine and Covenants, God commands the Church to build a temple in Jackson County, Missouri. But the Church fails to do so. And Joseph Smith, writing in the voice of God, explains that God retracts the command: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings.” So again, which is it? Does God always prepare a way for us to accomplish God’s commands? Or does God sometimes give commands that God will later retract? The scriptures teach both. The temptation, at this point, may be to throw the scriptures away. If they aren’t always right at all times and in all places, why bother? Well, maybe the point isn’t to be right in such an abstract way. Maybe the point is much more practical. Scripture Must Be Useful Just because something’s fallible doesn’t mean it’s useless. Just because someone is fallible doesn’t mean that you can’t trust that person. To the contrary, sometimes it’s precisely the shortcomings that lead to utility and trustworthiness. Have you ever talked with someone who tried to start a business? How about someone who tried to win a race? Some
5 minutes | Dec 26, 2022
In that day, when all the world is taxed and pregnant with prophecy, babies who will be Christ are born. Sublime messengers herald the good news to those who kept watch during the night. And they spread the word. Some wonder and ponder in their hearts. Many are troubled. Children who will be Christ grow in wisdom and stature. Venturing from their parents, they find themselves among authorities in revered places. There, they hear and ask questions. They understand and answer. All are astonished. No longer children, they who will be Christ go to the wilderness. They ask. Refused, they ask again, that all may know their commitment is stronger than the cords of death. Then with consent, they are fully immersed in Christ. And the sublime esthetic descends on them. In the wilderness, Christ is tempted. Maybe they should fulfill their own desires. Maybe they should leave the sublime work to others. Maybe they should even worship the one who aspires to rise above all others as God alone. But temptation leaves and sublime ministers come. From that time, Christ begins to teach: “Change! Join us. Fully immerse yourselves in Christ, as exemplified and invited by Jesus.” Immediately some join. And, together, they go about teaching. As their fame spreads, many more join. “Bless and be blessed. You are the saviors of humanity. What could the world do without you? You are the light of the world. Let your light shine. Love God. Love everyone as you love yourselves. Love even your enemies, that you may be perfect as God is perfect.” Christ goes about consoling and healing the people, who bring the sick and tormented. When they bring the dead, Christ says they will rise. Some misunderstand, thinking only of a future day. So Christ raises the dead and tells others to help. But many conspire for death. Resorting to the high mountains, Christ is transfigured. Their faces shine as the sun, their clothes as the light. Ancient prophets appear to them. Sublime voices speak to them. But they share the full vision with no one, except those who will rise again from the dead. Despite conspiracies to kill them, Christ descends from the mountains and goes again among the people. Great crowds greet them. So they teach and invite. And, in their zeal, they reprove and scourge those who abuse authority to raise themselves above others. Now when the evening comes, Christ sits down to eat. They take food, bless it, and share it in memory of their body. They take drink, give thanks for it, and share it in memory of their blood. This night, they know, they will betray and deny each other. And they will suffer. Distressed and troubled, then overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, Christ falls and prays. In anguish, despite sublime comforters, they pray more earnestly. Trembling in pain, sweating and bleeding, they relinquish themselves to betrayal and denial. Among authorities, Christ is stripped and ridiculed. Before the world, they are tortured. They cry with a loud voice, “God, why have you forsaken us?” And they are ridiculed again. In the darkness, they cry again. And finally they die. Heavens weep. Earth mourns. Eternity shakes. Silence. Early in the morning at first light, tombs open. And Christ begins to rise. Maybe they are undertakers. But their voices and words are familiar. Maybe they are ghosts. But they have bodies as tangible as our own. Maybe they are lies. But knowledge is revealed, and power is endowed. Grace by grace, Christ continues to rise. In that day, beyond past notions of poverty and enmity and death, Christ returns as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west. Sublime messengers herald the good news to all the world. And all the world sees that we are Christ. In gratitude for your support, I’m giving an NFT for artwork in this article to everyone who owned any other NFT in the Lincoln Cannon contract as of Christmas morning 2022. Merry (after) Christmas!
19 minutes | Dec 7, 2022
The Story of Stolen CryptoPunk V1 1234
CryptoPunk V1 1234 was stolen from me in a scam. For you, I hope, the story will be educational and cautionary. For me, the story is also sad. CryptoPunk V1 1234 is an NFT (non-fungible token). If you don’t know much about NFTs, or if you’d like to know more, I recommend reading about NFTs on the Ethereum Foundation website. It will help you understand this story better. Basically, CryptoPunk V1 1234 is a work of digital art and associated data stored on the Ethereum blockchain. It is one of 10,000 unique CryptoPunk V1 NFTs (hereafter V1s). They are the original CryptoPunk NFTs that Larva Labs created in 2017. After distributing the V1s, Larva Labs became aware of a bug in their code. So they created and distributed 10,000 more CryptoPunk V2 NFTs (hereafter V2s), using the same digital art and fixed code. Some V2s have since sold for millions of dollars. Today, the lowest asking price for a V2 is 63.95 ETH ($80,848.15). In late 2021, someone figured out how to work around the V1 bug. Soon, people began trading V1s. Their prices were much lower than those for V2s. But, in early 2022, V1 prices began rising rapidly. I’ve been investing in NFTs since January 2021. For the most part, the investments have been profitable. So, when the V1s came to my attention, I purchased CryptoPunk V1 5982 for 14.5 ETH ($38,992.53). About a week later, I sold it for 18.3358 ETH ($57,037.76). Using some of the profit, I purchased CryptoPunk V1 1234 on 7 February 2022 for 14.995 ETH ($47,104.99). At the time, I wasn’t sure whether I would sell it soon or hold on to it for the long term. But three events occurred that ended up making that decision for me. First, the largest NFT marketplace, OpenSea, delisted V1s. Apparently, Larva Labs was unhappy that people had begun trading V1s. So they sent a DMCA takedown notice to OpenSea. Although the legality of the DMCA was controversial, OpenSea complied. Consequently, it became much harder to sell V1s. Yuga Labs eventually acquired the CryptoPunks IP from Larva Labs. And OpenSea eventually listed V1s again. But, by that time, there was another problem. Second, the blockchain industry (like most other industries) descended into a bear market. Based on experience through multiple boom and bust cycles in blockchain investing, I was expecting a bear market. But I wasn’t expecting it so soon. Maybe the war in Ukraine accelerated it. In any case, there was no longer a realistic possibility that I could sell CryptoPunk V1 1234 for a profit in the short term. I could sell it for a loss. Or I could hold on to it, perhaps at least until the next bull market. But, as it turns out, there was another problem. Third, I was scammed. The Scam On 16 May 2022, I wasn’t at my best. On top of the usual daily challenges associated with running a startup business, the air conditioning in our home, where I work, was being repaired. And, most concerning, my son was in exploratory surgery, after months of intermittent severe gut pain and numerous inconclusive tests. Suffice it to say, I was unusually unfocused and emotionally fatigued when, late in the day, I saw a tweet from “adidas Originals.” The tweet claimed that Adidas, the well-known sports brand, was offering NFT avatars. I was already aware that Adidas had initiated an NFT marketing campaign at the end of 2021. And my initial impression, from the tweet, was that Adidas was extending that campaign with a new offering. Because investments in the original Adidas NFT campaign had performed well, I was interested. In hindsight, the tweet presented some red flags that I should have, and ordinarily probably would have, noticed and considered more carefully. For example, although the account that posted the tweet had thousands of followers, it was relatively new. And many, if not most, of the retweets and likes also came from relatively new accounts with few followers. Despite those red flags, I clicked on the link in the tweet to check out the website. The website claimed that Adidas was giving away free NFT avatars to people who already possessed some other popular NFTs. All I had to do, apparently, was connect my NFT wallet to the website to verify that I possessed one of the popular NFTs, and then approve payment of a network fee to transfer a free NFT avatar to my wallet. I knew of legitimate NFT projects that had used similar marketing strategies to get traction. But, again in hindsight, the website raised some red flags that I should have noticed. For example, its domain name (adidas-nft.claims) wasn’t the standard Adidas domain name. And Adidas had been using its standard domain name (adidas.com) for previous NFT marketing campaigns. Despite more red flags, I connected my NFT wallet to the website. Then I clicked a button, purportedly to claim my free NFT avatar. The website asked me to approve a transaction, with permissions described in overly-broad terms that were yet another red flag that I should have noticed. But, not giving that sufficient attention, and thinking I was approving payment of a network fee, I approved a transaction. Nothing appeared to happen. I thought the transaction may have failed. And I should have checked blockchain records to confirm. But instead, I clicked the button again and approved another transaction. Nothing appeared to happen. That’s when my brain finally started working. The red flags came into focus. I felt a pit in my stomach, as I quickly navigated to check blockchain records. At Etherscan, I saw two new blockchain records. The first record showed that I had indeed paid a network fee. But instead of receiving a free NFT avatar, I had actually been scammed into sending CryptoPunk V1 1234 from my wallet to an anonymous address. The second record showed that I had paid another network fee for a transaction that failed, presumably because the contract couldn’t find another popular NFT in my wallet to steal. I wasn’t happy, to say the least. But I went to work immediately, taking two steps that I recommend to anyone else who may find themselves in a similar situation: I used revoke.cash to revoke permissions on my NFT wallet. This would mitigate the risk of additional attempts to exploit permissions I had approved for my wallet. I reported the theft to OpenSea. This would hinder some attempts to sell my stolen NFT. Harold Espinosa On 18 May 2022, I noticed that my stolen CryptoPunk V1 1234 had been transferred from the anonymous address to another address. The other address was associated with a profile on OpenSea. The profile name was “themiamiharold.” And the profile description was: “Digital Advertiser during the day Creator of all things during the night.” That name and description matched information that I found elsewhere on the web for Harold Espinosa. His Twitter handle was “themiamiharold.” His LinkedIn profile described him as an “aspiring marketer,” living in the Fort Lauderdale area of Florida. And his website provided a contact form. So I attempted to contact Harold via his website, informing him that he was in possession of my stolen property, and advising him that he should return it. I also tried to contact Harold via Twitter. The next day, my stolen NFT was transferred from Harold’s address to another anonymous address. Then the anonymous address listed my stolen NFT for sale on OpenSea. This was possible because OpenSea had not yet acted on my theft report. At this point, I decided to report the theft to Fort Lauderdale police. They directed me to report the theft to my local police department in Orem, Utah. And Orem PD directed me to report the theft to the FBI. So I ended up filing theft reports with all three agencies. I repeated attempts to contact Harold via Twitter on 24 May 2022 and 7 June 2022. He responded via Twitter private message on 7 June 2022, commenting on the transfers of my stolen NFT to and from his address, as follows: “It seems someone transferred it to my account somehow, and then transferred it out. Not sure how they were able to do that.” Harold also commented on the timing of his response, as follows: “And sorry for the late response. I sincerely thought I was being trolled until I actually checked. My apologies for that.” Harold shared his email address with me. So I contacted him via email, sharing my FBI report. And I encouraged him to file an FBI report too. He did so, and shared with me the report, in which he described the incident as follows: “My OpenSea account was somehow hacked and used as a medium for a fraud account.” Shane Lavalette On 19 May 2022, I noticed that my stolen CryptoPunk V1 1234 was sold by the second anonymous address for 4 WETH ($8,089.69) to another address, again associated with a profile on OpenSea. The profile name was “shanelavalette.” The profile description was: “Shane Lavalette is an artist in photography and books.” And the profile was linked to a Twitter profile with the same handle. Shane’s websites described him as a “photographer,” whose “photographs have been shared widely.” And his work appeared to be available for sale as NFTs, as well as via traditional art channels. So I used an email address available on his website to contact him, informing him that he possessed my stolen property, and advising him to return it. I also attempted to contact Shane via Twitter. Shane responded via Twitter private message the same day. He commented on his purchase of my stolen NFT as follows: “I put WETH bids on various v1 punks the other day and one recently sold to me, so I’m sorry if that’s the one you are speaking of which you owned prior to someone else. Certainly, I’d be fine with returning it to you for what I just paid if that would be helpful in this scenario?” Replying to Shane, I advised him that the law requires return of stolen property. I encouraged him to file police reports and seek compensation from whomever sold my stolen property to him. And I offered to help him with that. As our communication shifted to email, Shane informed me that: “I’ve contacted the folks at Orem PD yesterday to ask about this situation and reiterated that I am happy to be helpful where I can be. They’ve told me they will likely be in touch soon, so I’ll await any updates from them.” At this tim
2 minutes | Nov 27, 2022
Cultivating Bias Toward More Right
There are at least two ways to be less wrong. You can decrease risk of being wrong, which also decreases opportunity for being right. Or you can increase opportunity for being right, which also increases risk of being wrong. Neither is necessarily proportionate. The surest way to be less wrong is to be less – to live less, even to exist less. That which doesn’t exist is never wrong. If we imagine that to be wrong, such is so only to the extent that our imagination imbues existence. Nihilism is less wrong. To remain true to life, one cannot consistently prioritize being less wrong above being more right. The former is a practical dead end – figuratively, literally, even informatically. The latter entails perpetual risk. And perpetual risk entails perpetual cost. Life demands it. Work toward being less wrong can be and often is helpful. However, if desire to be less wrong supersedes desire to be more right, if work toward being less wrong supersedes work toward being more right, on the whole, we are servants of death. The aspiration to be less wrong is not better than the aspiration to overcome bias. Some biases, such as love, can be worth cultivating rather than overcoming. Likewise, the risk of being more wrong can be worth the opportunity of being more right. Will she love you back? Until you take a risk, you won’t know. That’s how life works. That’s how wisdom works. So that’s what true philosophers do. We take risks, only sometimes calculated, because we love her.
12 minutes | Oct 7, 2022
The Historical Christ Jesus of Nazareth Matters
A friend asked me questions about the historical Jesus. Was he important? Is he still important? If so, why? I’ve written much about Jesus over the years. My emphasis is often on the importance of revering Jesus as an example, the principal example, of sublime humanity or the mortal approach to Godhood. Scripture would extend from Jesus to us all of the same titles and roles. Most important among those is the title of Christ, which we receive in baptism, and the role of Atonement, in which Jesus invites us to participate. Because of my emphasis on worship as emulation, sometimes people wonder whether I think the general idea of Christ might be sufficient, independent of an historical Jesus. As my friend put it, “How does Jesus the person matter to this?” And he presses farther, asking, “How does any particular one of us (God the Father even) influence us to love, forgive, collaborate, etc. in a way that the whole massive collective could not do anyhow without that influence?” These are important questions because most Mormons, like most Christians, have strong feelings toward the historical Jesus. And those feelings arise, in large measure, from the influence of scripture that emphasizes his importance. The Book of Mormon even goes so far as to assert that “there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved.” So how do Mormons understand this? How could we explain the perspective that, as my friend put it, “the event of Jesus of Nazareth’s particular life and messianic atonement [is] ‘indispensable’ for all human divinization?” And could we explain this in a practical way – in contrast to any appeal to supernaturalism? My initial answer to his question was in conversation. And there were two parts to the answer. We Require Each Member of Christ First, each of us matters individually and particularly, and not just generally or in the abstract. Like each specific person you love matters individually and particularly to you, the historical Jesus matters individually and particularly to those who knew and loved him specifically. If we care only about the specific persons that matter to us, we’re being uncharitable. To the extent that we give up or lose hope in redeeming particular persons, we cultivate escapism. To the extent that our account of transfiguration and resurrection to immortality becomes merely an abstraction, it becomes a euphemism for death. But most of us aspire to an eternal life that’s as real as light and as warm as love. And that requires all the individualities, particularities, and specificities of real life. That requires your real friends and family, as well as their real friends and family. And that requires the real historical Jesus. The Gospel of Christ doesn’t require us to raise Jesus above all else that’s called “God.” And Jesus doesn’t ask for that. To the contrary, the scriptures associate such behavior with Satan. Instead, as they do consistently with all roles, scriptures extend from Jesus to us each the same role of individual necessity. If there’s even one lost sheep, Jesus encourages us to go after him. If there’s even one lost soul, how great will be our joy after we help her return. We without them, and they without us, cannot be made perfect. Recall the Book of Mormon assertion that none can be saved except by the name of “Jesus Christ” specifically. There’s more. The Book of Mormon also encourages us each, individually, to take on the name of “Christ” – the title without the name “Jesus.” And it does so within another sermon that asserts, more generally in reference to “Christ,” that “there shall be no other name given nor any other way or means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” We can, of course, interpret these passages of scriptures in various ways. The interpretation that makes the most sense to my mind and feels the best in my heart is that which recognizes, yet again, an intentional scriptural extension of the titles and roles of Christ from Jesus to us. As the heaven to which we aspire cannot come fully into being without Jesus individually, so it cannot come fully into being without everyone else individually. Anything less would be psychosocially insufficient, and a call to eternal action. The Experiential Atonement The second part of my answer to my friend’s question appealed to a speculative relationship between common Christology and the trajectory of emerging technology. Many Christians, Mormon and otherwise, understand the historical Jesus to have engaged in some kind of transcendent work, accompanied by suffering, in the Garden of Gethsemane. Many call this “the Atonement,” understanding it to be of great importance to the salvation of humanity. And many understand Jesus to have experienced our sorrows and our sufferings as part of his experience. What really happened historically? Of course I don’t know. I wasn’t there. And even if I had been, I couldn’t know any better than the disciples who, according to the Biblical account, fell asleep while Jesus suffered. But that has never stopped me from enjoying speculation. And in this case, the speculation may even have beneficial practical consequence. So let’s speculate. As I’ve suggested before, the trajectory of emerging technology seems to suggest that superhumans and their computers will become indistinguishable. If we live in a computed world, the computer is probably indistinguishable from the engineer, “ in whom we live and move and have our being.” So they would share an anatomy. And, by extension, they could share experience – “ if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” As I imagine superhuman computer-engineers, to whatever extent I might be barely capable of imagining such vast minds, they could be experientially connected with the worlds that they create. The connection could be so intimate that they could suffer each pain and enjoy each pleasure of each being in each world within their computational reach. And maybe human bodies and minds within their worlds could be transformed, even transfigured as the Bible says of Jesus, and become capable of sharing in that experiential connection with far broader and deeper awareness. If superhumanity could do this, why would they? An experiential connection between creator and created could serve at least a couple purposes. First, it could provide the creator with a perpetual opportunity to learn and grow through infinitely diverse rich experiences. And second, it could serve as an ethical limit on the risks to which a creator would be willing to expose a creation, knowing that she would suffer all of the consequences of those risks with her creatures. The only thing I know for sure is that my speculations are wrong to some extent. But they provoke recognition of strong feelings that I associate with the importance of individuals and the details of their experiences. When I make my feeble attempt to imagine the greatest of superhuman minds, not only in power but also in the virtues that I revere, I’m moved to imagine that which could and would concern itself deeply with personal specificities. That, in turn, influences me. Worshipping through emulation, I aim to become like the God that I imagine – like the Christ that Jesus exemplifies in my understanding. Encouraged by my imagination of their unique compassion for me individually, I reach out more thoughtfully and carefully, and thereby effectively, to others around me. And through such effort, I actually become increasingly better at the task – actually more compassionate, maybe even eventually approximating how I now imagine God. Historical Jesus and Scriptural Jesus I suppose that I should acknowledge again, for the sake of my skeptic friends, that we don’t really know much about an historical Jesus. There was even a time when it was fashionable among academics to doubt that a historical Jesus ever existed. That has subsided considerably, with most scholars now consenting that Jesus of Nazareth was probably a real person. How well do the scriptures present the historical Jesus? What about all of those miracles? I can’t answer that for you. Again, I wasn’t there. That’s an ambiguity that I’m comfortable with. And it’s not to say that I don’t care about how well scriptures present the historical Jesus. I do care, for all the reasons I mention above. But I’m okay with whatever we discover as our efforts at history and archeology progressively reveal more. On the one hand, so to speak, the Matrix architect can do as she pleases. If she wishes to enable Jesus to perform miracles, she can do so within ultimately naturalistic mechanisms. Miracles are simply experiences that we cannot yet explain. Much that we experience and do in the modern world would be perceived, rightly, as miraculous to our ancestors. On the other hand, ancient writers may have used miracles as symbols, or received and repeated stories, or even outright exaggerated or lied. And yet the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ would persist in the lives of those who live it, quite independent of any such discoveries about discrepancies between the historical and scriptural Jesus. In any case, all of the following sentences are entirely and sincerely true. I care about and want to know the historical Jesus. I care about and seek to emulate the scriptural Jesus. And I expect to continue learning more about the similarities and differences between the two. Conclusion As our conversation shifted to writing, my friend offered a reflection of what he understood me to be describing. Here’s what he wrote: “The capacity for such massive love is developed by choice under pressure. Not all of us have ‘thus far’ made the choices that the Christ Gods have. We have chosen to follow their paths to develop their capacities. We are aiming to become MORE by responding to their loving desires to make choices that we have not yet been willing to make – in all eternity so far. It takes One to know One so to speak. We desire to become more, to develop into beings that are reliably each other’s saviors, forgivers, helpers, pro-cr
11 minutes | Oct 5, 2022
Illustrated Second Edition of The Consolation
Today, I’ve lived as many days as my father had lived when he died from cancer. And I’m celebrating by publishing an illustrated second edition of The Consolation. On 7 April 1844, less than three months before his assassination, Joseph Smith spoke to thousands of fellow Mormons gathered in Nauvoo, Illinois, for a general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Responding to the accidental death of city constable King Follett, Joseph addressed the subjects of resurrection and deification, in what many Mormons esteem as his culminating theological statement and literary critic Harold Bloom has assessed as “one of the truly remarkable sermons ever preached in America.” In 2011, as a tribute to and in reverence of Joseph’s words, I composed an interpretive variation on his sermon. And I dedicated its delivery, at the 2012 Conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, to the memory of my father and other deceased friends. The initial composition, a recording of the conference delivery, and the published first edition are all available online. The second edition of The Consolation has three types of changes. First, there are adjustments to the flow of some sentences and paragraphs. Second, there are some words exchanged for what I now consider to be improvements, such as “superhuman” instead of “posthuman.” And most notably, third, there are now illustrations, which I created with assistance from artificial intelligence. As a preview, I shared the illustrations and some related thoughts on social media. The response was enthusiastic. So I decided to gather them together into one place here, to share again with you. After Nauvoo On 5 October, I’ll be as old as my father when he died from cancer. And I’m celebrating by publishing an illustrated edition of The Consolation, a sermon about creation and resurrection that I originally dedicated to him. This is an illustration from the book — “After Nauvoo.” Wind of Science “For many years, the howling wind of science has been blowing superstition and brutality from humanity.” “Wind of Science” will appear in the illustrated edition of The Consolation, which I’m publishing soon in memory of my father. Dogmatic Pews One theme that I explore in The Consolation is the evolution of religion. My father’s death and memory played pivotal roles in my own religious life, into atheism and back to faith. This is “Dogmatic Pews” from the soon-to-be-released illustrated edition. All Prophets My father taught me, as a child, the idea that God can speak through all of us – the idea that the prophetic calling is universal. This is “All Prophets,” which will appear in the illustrated edition of The Consolation. How God Began “God was once like us.” A major theme of The Consolation is humanity’s relationship with God, projected into our common origins and shared potentials. “How God Began” will appear in the illustrated edition, soon to be published in memory of my father. Eternal Progression My father often told me that he hoped I would do greater things than he had done. And he taught me that God hoped the same for all, grace by grace from a small capacity to a great one. This is “Eternal Progression” from the illustrated edition of The Consolation, coming soon. Prototype of Christ When you think of Jesus, do you think of someone different, like whom we can’t really be? Or do you think of someone like whom we can and should be? The Consolation explores the difference, and includes this illustration, “Prototype of Christ.” Spirit Children Creation beyond ourselves, creation of new creators: in Mormonism, this is the highest aspiration, exemplified by God’s work to empower humanity. We share in that work by empowering our children. This is “Spirit Children,” from the upcoming illustrated edition of The Consolation. Computed Thinker My father was a computer scientist long before it was popular. So I learned to program young. That, combined with eventual interest in philosophy, set me up to be persuaded that we live in a computed world. This is “Computed Thinker” from The Consolation, soon to be published. Great Filter Amidst our hope, we should keep in mind the risk and its ramifications. We have work to do. And if we succeed, we almost certainly won’t be the first or only to succeed. This is “Great Filter” from the illustrated edition of The Consolation, to be published on 5 October. Tree of Knowledge Life can be beautiful. But the experience has risk. Knowledge always comes with a price. And, as was ultimately the case with my father’s cancer, some experience becomes worse than death. This is “Tree of Knowledge,” which will be published in The Consolation on 5 October. Without Beginning A feature of Mormon theology that ties together God and humanity is the rejection of creation ex nihilo. In other words, God created the world from something rather than nothing. “Without Beginning” will appear in the illustrated edition of The Consolation on 5 October. Conception Creation of a mind, whether natural or artificial, always entails the reorganization of pre-existing matter and information. It has something in common with transfiguration and resurrection. This is “Conception,” from the soon-to-release illustrated edition of The Consolation. Thy Mind My father died of cancer 24 years ago on 1 October. On 5 October, I’ll be as old as he was. Joseph Smith said that leadership requires minds to stretch to both the “utmost heavens” and the “darkest abyss.” This is “Thy Mind,” which will appear in the illustrated edition of The Consolation. Eternal Round Joseph Smith compared the human mind to a ring, without beginning or end. God can organize a body for a mind, he claimed, but cannot create a mind from nothing. Neither can a mind be annihilated. This is “Eternal Round,” which will appear in The Consolation on 5 October. Worlds Without End Without beginning, Gods found themselves making worlds without end. This is the expansive vision of creative potential that my father and his ancestors handed down to me. “Worlds Without End” will appear in the illustrated edition of The Consolation on 5 October. Transfiguration A major theme of The Consolation is the possibility of human transformation, beyond present notions of poverty, enmity, and death. “Transfiguration” appears in the illustrated edition, to be published on 5 October. Their Name Adam Adam is many, male and female, all of humanity. This is an interpretive key that unlocks a new paradigm of scriptural understanding, with much deeper practical application. “Their Name Adam” appears in the illustrated edition of The Consolation, coming on 5 October! Resurrection This is “Resurrection” from the illustrated edition of The Consolation, which will be published in memory of my father on 5 October. To some, it sounds crazy. But there can be a bold practicality to faith in resurrection, to actual work toward Jesus’ command to raise the dead. Quantum Archeology What if we could reach through time and space to remember – to reconstruct in detail – the history of cosmos, our world, and even the brains and bodies of our ancestors? This is “Quantum Archeology,” which appears in the illustrated edition of The Consolation. Coming soon! Mother of Gods Imagine a superhuman mother, a creator of creators. One of the most sublime ideas that I inherited from my parents and ancestors is that of heavenly mother – the divine potential of women. This is “Mother of Gods,” which will appear in the illustrated edition of The Consolation. Engineering Kolob What if the star nearest the abode of God is actually inside the abode of God? Such would be the case if the abode of God is a Dyson sphere. This is “Engineering Kolob,” which will appear in the illustrated edition of The Consolation on 5 October! Tree of Life In Mormon theology, the tree of life is not so much a final destination. It’s more of a way of life, at-one-ment, eternal life, the kind of life that God lives – still eternal progression. This is “Tree of Life,” which will appear in The Consolation on 5 October! Share the Inspiration I hope you’re inspired by these ideas, both conceptual and visual. They’ve been nothing short of transformative in my life. And I’ve observed them function similarly in the lives of many friends and family members. The illustrated second edition of The Consolation: An Interpretive Variaion on the Last General Conference Sermon of Joseph Smith is now available for purchase online at this link. It’s a hardcover book with approximately 80 pages. The text is printed in a large 16-point font. And there are full-color full-page illustrations on every third page. If you were already familiar with the sermon, you’ll know that it’s devotional in style. The illustrations add to that feeling. I’ve already read through the illustrated edition multiple times, including out loud in a room by myself. It’s an emotional experience. Please buy a copy for yourself. And please buy copies to share as gifts to your friends and family. If your budget doesn’t permit, let me know. Thank you so much for supporting my work!
12 minutes | Sep 16, 2022
Did Ezekiel See a UFO?
A friend asked for my thoughts on “ The Spaceships of Ezekiel ” by Josef F. Blumrich in 1974. I hadn’t heard of the book before. But the topic sounded fun, even if speculative in a way that warrants skepticism. So I decided to give it a read. The Book of Ezekiel is part of the Hebrew Bible. Ezekiel probably wrote the core text in Babylon during the early sixth century BCE. And others probably made changes and additions over time. In the book, Ezekiel describes six visions. The visions include strange beings and objects – including the wings and wheels alluded to by the logo of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. And many modern readers have wondered about the possibility of a relationship between the visions and what we might describe today as ETs or UFOs. One of those modern readers was Erich von Daniken, who wrote “ Chariots of the Gods ” in 1968. I don’t know much about that book. But apparently it attempts to make a case for the UFO connection. And it caught the attention of Blumrich, who was an aircraft and rocket professional. Blumrich set out to refute Daniken’s case. At first, Blumrich had “the condescending attitude of someone who knows beforehand that the conclusions presented can by no means by correct.” But that changed. And at the end, Blumrich commented that “seldom has a total defeat been so rewarding, so fascinating, and so delightful!” Blumrich on Ezekiel In chapter one, Blumrich states that he’s “presenting engineering proof of the technical soundness and reality of the spaceships described by Ezekiel, as well as of the related events and procedures.” He observes that archeological evidence would be an important complement to his efforts. But that’s beyond the scope of his work. So let’s see whether and how he does what he claims. In chapter two, Blumrich describes Ezekiel as a well-educated and broadly-experienced person. This is important, Blumrich notes, because it would lend credibility to Ezekiel’s reports. To the best of my knowledge, Blumrich’s description of Ezekiel is reasonable, based on what little we have from historical records. In chapter three, Blumrich quotes long passages from the Book of Ezekiel, followed by interpretive re-tellings of the narratives. The re-tellings include elaborative explanations of how Ezekiel may be describing a spaceship and its occupants. The explanations do reflect the text, although to me they seem to be more creative than observational. Blumrich doesn’t quote all the text from the Book of Ezekiel. He skips the religious parts, which he considers tangential to his goal. And he quotes only a sampling of the descriptive parts, which he considers exemplary of Ezekiel’s style. I was disappointed that Blumrich didn’t offer an explanation for an occasion when Ezekiel has a vision while sitting in his house with other religious leaders. It seems like they would have seen a visiting spaceship. But neither does Ezekiel bother to say how the other religious leaders react to his visionary experience. In chapter four, Blumrich describes his conception of a spacecraft that would be consistent with Ezekiel’s observations. It sounds pretty cool. I’m not a rocket scientist, so I can’t reliably comment on the technical feasibility. But he certainly sounds like a legitimate rocket scientist. I can, I think reliably, comment on the relationship between the spacecraft conception and the text. It’s speculative. As mentioned before, Blumrich’s ideas do reflect the text. But they seem more creative than merely observational. Blumrich doesn’t spend much time in this chapter actually tying his spaceship conception to the Ezekiel text. And he makes some conjectural leaps that I’m not comfortable with, while characterizing them as more objective than they actually are. For example, he mentions “the mission that the spaceships described by Ezekiel obviously had.” Unfortunately, that mission isn’t at all obvious to me. Chapter five is the core of Blumrich’s case for a spaceship interpretation of Ezekiel. It engages in a much more detailed interpretive reading of the text, relating back to the conception of a spacecraft as described in chapter four. It does an excellent job of portraying why and how Blumrich connects the dots, so to speak. And although it doesn’t provide any necessity to the connections, it does generally establish plausibility. A good example of how Blumrich approaches establishing plausibility is on page 63. There he relates the progression of Ezekiel’s observations to the probable order of phases of a spaceship (of the sort Blumrich describes in chapter four) engaging in a landing process. Again, I don’t see necessity in this account. But I do find the account plausible and admirably creative. I don’t think Blumrich gives enough attention to how the religious parts of the text should influence our interpretation of the descriptive parts. For example, he comments that Ezekiel has “every reason … to believe that the commander is God himself.” And he bases this on the strangeness of the experience. But what about all the dialogue in the text, where the visitor actually does speak in the voice of God? Blumrich even downplays the religious parts of the text at times. For example, he claims that, during one experience, Ezekiel might be expected “to believe that he was hearing the voice of the Lord.” But, per Blumrich, Ezekiel “stays aloof and in very sober terms states what he hears: ‘… the voice of one that spoke’; he avoids any tendency to glorify, to be sensational …” But in the very next chapter, Ezekiel claims, without any hesitation or questioning, that the visitor identifies as the “Lord.” And sometimes Blumrich outright misrepresents the religious parts of Ezekiel’s text. An example of this is on page 75, where he claims that Ezekiel refers to the visitor “without any reverence.” But that’s not true. The text shows that Ezekiel repeatedly refers to the visitor as “Lord,” such as in chapter 4 verse 14, and even regularly prostrates himself before the visitor. The downplaying and misrepresenting of the religious parts of the text don’t negate the plausibility of Blumrich’s technical interpretation. But they do weaken its persuasiveness. Why would the visitor care about Ezekiel at all, let alone take him to observe that which Blumrich characterizes as the cleanup of a malfunctioning reactor? Without a religious motivation, given Ezekiel’s religious status, none of the events make much sense. Moreover, it’s altogether odd that anyone would trust Ezekiel’s accounts related to possible technological phenomena while not trusting Ezekiel’s accounts related to religion, even if bracketing agreement with whatever we suppose Ezekiel’s theology to be. If Ezekiel is an unusually gifted observed, as Blumrich claims, then that gift would surely extend most particularly to events most directly relate to his religious expertise. Surely Ezekiel could dependably describe religious words from a visitor that he esteemed as divine, if he could dependably describe technological phenomena. On page 97, Blumrich briefly makes the case that technological stability over periods of decades should be expected from mature civilizations. Our technology is dynamic, he claims, because our civilization is at the beginning of a technical era. This doesn’t have a large impact on his arguments. But I’ll note that he isn’t writing with an awareness of the more modern hypothesis that technology may progress at an overall exponential rate for long periods of time. In chapter six, Blumrich describes some patterns that he sees throughout the descriptive portions of Ezekiel’s text. This provides some elaboration on the plausibility of the technical interpretation. And it was interesting and creative, even if speculative rather than conclusive. In chapter seven, Blumrich explains that the Book of Ezekiel probably has multiple authors, even if perhaps only one final editor. And he points out that this could explain some of the discrepancies between parts of the text. Blumrich also makes the interesting observation that the Book of Ezekiel has been controversial among some Jews due to its theological divergences. This, Blumrich contends, may be evidence that Ezekiel was accurately reporting ideas that he received from the visitor rather than re-stating accepted Jewish theology. In chapter eight, Blumrich explores the motives of the visitors. And he sums them up as “exploration of the planet, observation and study of man, and intellectual influence on mankind.” He acknowledges that the religious parts of the text are an important contributor to identifying the third motive. But that seems strange, given that he repeatedly downplayed or misrepresented the religious parts of the text in his interpretive chapter. Blumrich suggests that Ezekiel in particular could have proven to be important to the visitors because he demonstrated exceptional courage and intelligence. He didn’t run away. And he interacted articulately. Those characteristics, in combination with a position of religious authority, may have made him a useful target to leverage for intellectual influence. Blumrich, however, is overlooking the full power of cultural influence. And that would make Ezekiel an even better pick. It also makes more sense than efforts at a more analytical intellectual influence. If you want humanity to develop in a certain direction, you want to shape their shared esthetics (their religion) first and foremost! At the end of this chapter, Blumrich asks some thought-provoking questions to illustrate what he perceives as a difference between the visitors and modern humans. They’re worth quoting here. “Would we be able to muster so much trust in the intelligence of others and so much faith in the fertility of ideas to try to strengthen only the faith of these beings in their people and their religion?” He continues, “Would we really prefer natural growth to assistance by superior material power which could only be effective for a short time?” In chapter nine, Blumrich makes a case for convergent evolution. He cares because Ezekiel repeatedly says that the visitors look “like a man.” That doesn’t mean that the anatomies have to be exactly the same, Blumric