This is Essay LXXVIII of Mr. Stolyarov’s series, “A Rational Cosmology,” which seeks to present objective, absolute, rationally grounded views of terms such as universe, matter, volume, space, time, motion, sound, light, forces, fields, and even the higher-order concepts of life, consciousness, and volition. See the index of all the essays in “A Rational Cosmology” here.
There is an essential twofold implication in the physicalist worldview that necessitates its defense as a means of understanding and improving the future of human progress.
First, the physicalist worldview affirms the possibility of creating life out of non-life, given a sufficient degree of systematic complexity. Second, it supports the improvement of life processes using the laws of physics.
This is the only view of life, consciousness, and volition fully compatible with the idea that technological progress has no inherent limits which it cannot overcome, that progress will eventually bring about any capacity that human beings can conceive of.
The physicalist worldview supports the possibility that it might someday be possible to create electronic improvements upon human consciousness and thus expand the processing capacity of the human mind. It considers feasible the eventual integration of inert matter not originally in the body in order to enhance the body’s functions and render it less susceptible to external perils (through the use of disciplines such as nanotechnology). The physicalist even sees in the future the ability to extend human volition over presently involuntary body processes so as to direct them more efficiently.
Above all, the physicalist believes that the present forms of life, consciousness, and volition as manifested in human beings, though they are the highest and most advanced that ever existed, are not the highest and most advanced that could possibly exist. There is no such “ultimate limit,” according to the physicalist.
Since the only way in which human beings can create technology is by manipulating physical entities, by acknowledging that life is physical, the physicalist admits the possibility of improving upon life by manipulating physical elements.
This is the only view that rids man of the tragic fatalism which would state that, no matter how sophisticated or advanced his life, consciousness, and volition are, he is doomed to perish, because even his most complex attributes are still extremely vulnerable, and nothing can be done to improve them.
The physicalist recognizes that no system is doomed to end unless it ceases to resist the destructive external forces that endeavor to break it apart. His is the endeavor of gathering what knowledge and resources he might to resist those forces indefinitely and to the best of his capacity.
Indeed, with the emergence of genetic engineering, we have seen how greatly other living organisms can be improved from human benefit through physical manipulations. Our food supply has been quadrupled as a result of genetically enhanced crops, and it will soon be possible for genetically enhanced animals to provide us with safer, healthier, and more nutritious meat, milk, and other products. These accomplishments are empirical testaments to the accuracy of the physicalist worldview, and the forthcoming endeavors to rid man himself of perilous diseases and crippling defects will further confirm it.
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