Katina Michael interviewed Lazar Puhalo on 17th December 2014.
Biography: Puhalo is a Fellow of the Chester Ronning Centre of the University of Alberta, Canada. His formal studies include physics and neurobiology. Puhalo has travelled widely in the Middle East as a member of the Conversations with Islam project, lecturing in Syria and Turkey. His lecture series in Romania spanned six years, focussing primarily on social issues, and included participation in Templeton conferences on science and religion. He began work with the ecology movement in 1963 and continues to write and lecture on the dangers to our biosphere. Founder and abbot of All Saints Monastery near Vancouver, B.C., Canada, Puhalo is a retired hierarch of the Orthodox Church in America and serves as the Civil Liaison for the Canadian Archdiocese of the OCA. He is a consistent advocate for broader and deeper education in the sciences, ecological responsibility, the welfare of the mentally handicapped and affordable housing. Puhalo was a speaker at the Global Future 2045 International Congress events in 2012 and 2013.
A Conversation with Archbishop Lazar Puhalo on Advanced Technologies and Transhumanism
Lazar Puhalo: That is what we discuss at futurist conferences but it is really difficult to say because so much of the technology we have consists in spin-offs, usually from the military/ industrial complex. A lot of the technology has been and is being developed in secret. We have good ideas of what some of it is, but by no means all of it. I think in 30 years time though, we will have got used to almost continuous surveillance, even on public thoroughfares, and that to me is really one of the most ominous aspects of the element of technology. We will accept it because of fear, and fear is the strongest conditioner. In many cases, technology is developing in relationship to a war on terrorism, both real and imagined, and this conditions us to accept the surveillance of people in all circumstances. I think probably we will have a lot less personal freedom and there will be technologies that will help to distract us from having these personal freedoms. I think part of the technology that is developing is intended to distract us away from thinking and toward becoming less aware of what is going on in our governments and in our military. Social media has been used in popular protests to considerable effect, but it can be swamped and used for disinformation just as easily.
Katina Michael: A lot of people I speak to from political science believe that the advent of email has caused the dulling of our senses. We are more concerned and distracted by the frequency of these messages than the content of these messages. We are losing our ability to look up and outside and see the bigger picture of what all this distraction means and I think that plagues us in all our spiritual lives as well as we lack an ability to reflect. Geronta, your observation of the increasing nature of surveillance is accurate. Can you tell me what you think about new innovations like body wearable devices?
Lazar Puhalo: You know cameras are so miniscule now. We have things such as small ballpoint pens that can actually record videos. Our freedoms and our privacy are being impinged upon by other individuals, not only by government officials and police, and people you do not recognise- who these people or organisations are or what they are about. The KGB in former Soviet times would have done anything to have the kind of surveillance technologies that we have today which are so often used to spy on our own people. What we will have to get used to is the loss of privacy and the loss of private space. In a way this helps to cripple us because privacy itself and private space are something that are so valuable to us and integral to our emotional well-being. Even without invasive technology, when we get to dense population numbers, we have less and less actual private space. This includes the kind of private space where we are able say what we want to say and do something that we actually want to do. So far we can think and have freedom in the mind, but technology is impacting that as well. You know the CIA tried for years to find a truth serum or drug to use in interrogations but all they achieved was getting people sleepy. However, new technologies can actually read brain-waves and decipher what is going on in the mind in a general sense. I think that they develop that technology, initially for good purposes, then we will see mind reading technologies of one degree or another. As you know a soldier can now direct a missile with his eyes, and one can play computer games with one’s eyes rather using a joy stick or some other hands-on device. We can also operate some of the prosthetic devices using brain waves. This in itself looks like a really great advance, and it is at first glance. Someone who has multiple sclerosis in later stages can operate a robotic arm with brainwaves. It will pour a glass of water, for example, and bring it to the person’s mouth. You can see an aspect of that where you realise that the fact that that computer can read brainwaves or detect what you are thinking about, then you can see the application for that in the destruction of freedom of the mind as well. So these technologies can be very useful but also very invasive. They can be so beneficial and yet they can be so destructive at the same time. All technologies are that way and I worry that these technologies are proceeding along ways that ethics is of no consideration in the creation of them and how they are used. Ethics is one of the first casualties on this side of the road.
Katina Michael: Having spoken to so many innovators, I think I would have to concur. Many of them think that ethics is irrelevant to begin with. And when I question them about ethics they say that ethics is a moot point. In June 2013 I had the fine opportunity to host an international conference in Toronto Canada. And I met a small start-up, Interaxon, who have a device called MUSE. The CEO has demonstrated that MUSE can do some very novel things including pouring beer. Then there are the other breakthroughs at Browns University for disabled persons that are helping them to gain functions that they have lost through chip implants in the brain. The question however from a technological deterministic perspective as Jacques Ellul has written so well on, if we unleash these advanced technologies will they come back to bite us? And the answer to that is ultimately they will. I also do not think that we can compare modern inventions to knives and use the example that we can cut some bread with a knife or kill someone with it. Do you think these modern complex technologies have inherent qualities that are more dangerous for example, than the one’s we used for survival at the beginning of time.
Lazar Puhalo: I do subscribe to Alexander Panov’s theory shown in the Panov curve in the process of the evolution of these things. We cannot compare new developments to any of the ancient technologies. We cannot even compare any of the technologies from the epoch of World War II, which I remember as a matter of fact, with the technologies that have come since the 1980s. There is no comparison because we develop technologies, not always on the basis of public commercial use, but with a designated application that gives us the reason to develop it, but then of course we don’t know what is being done behind the scenes with the same technology. Part of the problem, particularly in America is that the American economy is based on a military substructure, so that their economy cannot survive without the military/industrial complex. In a very dramatic way, war and international police actions drive the technology, and this forms the base of the national economy and GDP. It is a form of fascism. Fascism properly defined is a coalition between government and industry in ruling a country. But the continued development of these technologies and their application to military uses and destruction as well as weapons exports is at the very root of the wartime economy and that is what is really worrisome. The technologies that we are developing today are on the one hand we could say, some of them are a great good for people who need them but at the same time they have military applications without a doubt and that of course involves more efficient and more savage ways of killing people. So the technology is really a double-edged sword, even the best of it that helps people who are disabled because even these figure into military robotics.
Katina Michael: Is there a danger of overstating the short-term technological possibilities?
Lazar Puhalo: Oh yes, because people make a profit by overstating things. Most of the pop-ups on your computer, and most of the ads on television are always overstated and that is what makes them sell and of course that is what makes us vote for certain politicians as well. The trouble with the electorate is that people will vote for false hope, they’ll never vote for truth. So everything has to be hype and overstated and in a society where that is the norm, and it is really the norm. In the case of transhumanism, of course it is going to be hyped and overstated. As an actual construct, transhumanism, doesn’t worry me so much, it’s the people who believe in transhumanism that concerns me, but not the actual construct itself because it is not going to happen the way they desire for it to. I don’t know if you had watched the Star Trek series? Well, all I can say is that what we are trying to do now is imitate the phrase, “we are Borgs; resistance is futile.” Cyborgism is a real concern, but it is a difficult concern because it can develop out of valid prosthetics. Transhumanism suggests an engineered spiritual evolution as much as anything else, and it is very gnostic. Unfortunately, there is a stream of Gnosticism running within the Orthodox Church today that suggests that transmigration of the soul is possible. Transhumanism presumes that the soul and the body are totally separate entities so that the soul can function outside the body and be downloaded into an avatar and also that it can be evolved to be totally independent of the human body. But from our point of view, every one of the Church fathers who wrote against Manichaeism insisted that the soul was not the complete person, but only a part of it, while the body is also a part of the person, and neither is complete without the other. But in Gnosticism, the idea is that the body is a prison of the soul, and once the soul is free from the body it can move wherever it wishes and have new experiences, etc. The Orthodox holy fathers were adamantly against that idea, but many of our writers have fallen into it so deeply that transhumanism would appear to have some Orthodox basis. Of course, transhumanism is a religion. Any movement that aims affecting the afterlife or the next life, or talks about immortality, must be classed as a religion per se, because just the idea of attaining immortality by some means makes it a religious movement. That is transhumanism, not that I think it can be accomplished, but it can impact the mentality and spiritual understanding in a way that removes their concept of God. That this can be achieved by human beings through some form of technological means opens the door to some new spiritual dimension that diminishes the value of humanity and mankind’s relationship with the divine.
Katina Michael: What do you think the consequences of such a belief are? That there are some who believe that this is the correct way forward? What will be some of the short term consequences of this?
Lazar Puhalo: Well, some very foul experiments involving humans. You know we have these things taking place in secret anyway. Here we have the CIA being very guilty of severe criminal activity and torture, and experimenting with various things to see if they could gain information. It is like in the 1930s when various people were being sterilised under the influence of the Eugenics movement. This did not take place only in Nazi Germany, but in America and in other Western democracies. People are willing to carry out very harmful, concrete experiments on other human beings to achieve the imagined ends of some ideology. I do think that transhumanism downgrades human beings. I think that some of the people that get involved in transhumanism are in the highest levels in industry or associations, and that their reasons for it have to do with power. At that level many of the people are sociopaths anyway. They get there by crushing and destroying anybody that gets in the way. When they get a hold of something like this it’s very difficult to predict what they might do with it. The idea of posthumanism in which we have gone from a kind of directed evolution to a condition in which we no longer can be defined as human, in the present day sense of the word, anyway, is floating around in the transhumanist world. Some of these people believe you can download the contents of the brain into an avatar, essentially, the memory, which means our knowledge and consciousness of self, and that may very well become feasible in the future. However, there is also a concept that one could actually download the human soul into an avatar. This sort of Gnostic idea is almost substantiated within the Orthodox Church by our own Gnostics who teach out of body experiences of the soul, soul travel, the aerial toll houses ideology and other purely Gnostic concepts as if they were Orthodox. Well okay, if one accepts this Gnostic stream within our Church, then all this is feasible that the soul can depart the body and can be downloaded or transmigrate into any body it wishes–an avatar, for example. There is even the idea that you may, with future technology, be able to transplant the human brain into one of these avatars, which is seen as a way to keep it alive and functioning artificially. People will try that, they will try to transplant the human brain while the person is still alive, or at least not brain dead. This sounds like something from a Nazi concentration camp. Let us remember that we are humans, but Nazis were also human beings just like us. But we also see people like Mother Theresa, and we realise that human beings are capable of extremely positive behaviour, and also very evil behaviour. We should not delude ourselves that we are not capable of such things in either direction. Any one of us is capable of either one or the other extremes, or any degree in between them. We will have people who will do what the Nazis did in their experiments and even worse, trying to develop new technologies with which to accomplish them. They can do these things in secret of course, almost like the rituals of a technocratic religion. People are going to try to effect these ideas and they are going to do it at the expense of other human beings. Even these ideas in and of themselves can change the technocrats vision and understanding of what it is to be human. That is the real proximate. We are created in the image and likeness of God, and in our understanding, that is what identifies us as humans. So what identifies us as humans in a transhumanist era with that mentality? It is the degrading of the vision of what makes us human that worries me most.
Katina Michael: Very interesting to see what is happening in countries like China. I know from sources that I trust that some young people, for instance, are choosing to donate a kidney for a very small sum like 300 US dollars, just so they can raise enough money to purchase a new mobile phone. And the hospitals are selling these kidneys to patients requiring the kidney for a cost 30 times the rate.
Lazar Puhalo: Part of this is, as you say, the hyperbole, of television and advertisements, but also the delusion that what you possess or lack values or devalues one’s humanity. Having an iPod or the right brand of shoes is often seen as increasing your status. The advertising industry has become the serpent of Eden, creating destructive and insatiable desires in us. One of the things the story of the Fall reveals to us is the destructiveness of excess desires. The Fall of man was a fall into egoism and self-centredness. Combine this with excessive desires, and one has a potently destructive mixture. Such desires devour us. Moreover, Satan always tempts us by offering us a counterfeit for something God’s already given us, and that is how he deceives us at his best. It is unbelievable what young people will do to get the latest thing that is advertised as a “must have,” telling that you “deserve it.” This is corrupting our whole concept of the value of our humanity and that is one of the great disasters.
Katina Michael: Geronta, I see this corruption visibly, because what I see is, this moving from outside our homes to inside our homes. We are in actual fact hyperconnected anywhere in the world, so long as there is some basic wireline or wireless infrastructure. Now we are seeing large search giants investing in infrastructure inside the home like Internet-enabled surveillance cameras (e.g. DropCam) that are on the Cloud. So instead of us having search engines so we can conduct searches online behind a desktop, we will have embedded cameras and microphones that can listen in on our private conversations and watch us remotely. It is not just the smart television but now also thermostat controls and smoke detectors. So the idea is that you place a piece of kit in various rooms, like a camera or a device that can detect all the movements in the house and all the audio in the house. And there are devices now where you can talk to a piece of equipment using your voice, and expect to receive an intelligent response you can act on. For example, add this or that to the shopping list, or how do you spell this word, or what should I feel about this piece of news. Again, this is being logged and sent back to the Cloud for further analysis. And the contradiction here is, that instead of us saying this is a surveillance device, we are saying this is a life-saving device, a device that will help our family, and our spirit and provide convenience. But we are blind to the fact that it is another source of infiltration.
Lazar Puhalo: The experiments with microchip implantation were conducted, to test their acceptability in certain circumstances, the results were interesting. These tests included a system in which you could go shopping in a market where microchips had also been attached to all the merchandise. The microchip implanted in the finger or back of the hand of the consumer contained all their banking information, but perhaps also information that the wearer was not aware was there. The convenience factor was obvious. You could fill your cart and proceed through the check out without stopping. One would just walk through the checkout stand, and a receiver reads the chips in all of the items, reads the chip implanted in the consumer, and transfers the money from your bank account to the store’s bank account. People will probably go for that system. It is rather ironic that people will sell their souls for convenience. For example, it is just so hard to type that question into Google, when you will be able to just say it, and the program will come back with the answer. Why do your own homework, when you can ask for the answers from a computer program, and it will give you all the answers. That is one of our tragedies. Convenience is marketed in such a way that it seems like, well this is a normal thing for people to want and they will actually trade any amount of our privacy or initiative, and ultimately sell our freedoms for convenience. It is a form of conditioning. Like Pavlov’s Dog, we are being conditioned to trade freedom for convenience. We will also trade freedom and privacy for security if we are frightened enough, and we’re being conditioned in that direction also. Fear is a great conditioner. One is reminded of one movie version of H. G. Wells THE TIME TRAVELLER in which the Morlocks have conditioned the Eloi to enter an underground shelter when sirens sound. The Morlocks, of course, pick several of the Eloi which they will butcher and eat. The siren is an air raid or storm warning siren. Again, when I look at the story of the Fall, what was the Fall from and into? An existence of unselfish love to the condition of egotism, and self-centredness and self-focus. And that egotism and our self-focus results in the majority of all human conflicts. Much of our spiritual struggle is toward de-conditioning ourselves from the passions and desires that are born of our egoism and self-focus. Ironically, while we think that through the conveniences and comforts we have been conditioned to seek, we will have more time. The reality is that we have less time than we did fifty years or a century ago without our technologies and conveniences. But even this lack of the expected extra time is a result of conditioning about our expectations.
Katina Michael: So what is all this deception doing to our minds? For example, my husband and I along with our research students have investigated what we’ve typically called the 3C’s- control, care and convenience applications in the context of implantable devices that have been launched since the 2000 period. The take up has been minimal but still we have studied the applications stemming from this. Our premise is that even if something is sold as “convenient” it still has an underlying factor of control, and as you add there “conditioning”, yet another “C” word.
Lazar Puhalo: Yes of body and soul.
Katina Michael: Yes. Even if you are elderly and suffering from dementia, let us put a chip implant in you so your loved ones can know where you are all the time. Or you are a minor, your parents are scared you will be abducted, here put a chip in the kid so you can have security and know where they are. But we always argue, you might know where the child is physically but it doesn’t mean they are alive or you can dupe these devices. So there is no foolproof technological solution and when I hear about implantables I say why would you want to go down that path? Because the minute you do not have access to the device embedded in your body, then you do not have control over it, you cannot throw it in the bin, you cannot destroy it. So we are leaving ourselves open to vulnerabilities in this way. There are many implications of the embedded surveillance devices, which my husband has termed uberveillance. And the question now is what is happening to our minds? Geronta, you have qualifications in neurobiology, is that correct?
Lazar Puhalo: Yes, I do. I think about these things when I go to the airport. I see people who have registered with the complete details of their lives, and taken an iris scan which is kept on file, together with all this information. Now, they can go to the scanner at passport control, eyepiece to have their iris read by a machine. The scanner compares the iris with the one on file, and the person conveniently passes quickly through passport control. Now, there are also e-passports as an option since 9/11. E-passports also offer convenience, but one has to surrender privacy with a form of total registration. These may take the form of a chip on your driving license which can be read at a distance by a receiver. But this is more convenient isn’t it? So if the authorised receiver can read it, so can criminals who can certainly obtain the necessary devices. Also, the government can have more direct and instant knowledge of where you are at all times. People won’t argue; they’ll go for having an implant say in the index finger so they can just touch a monitor which is very convenient, or some other form of identification that can be read as you pass by without even stopping. Supposing, well now let’s not get carried away with the mark of the beast as some fanatics did with bar codes, but all these technological conveniences make us far more susceptible to control and deprive us of our privacy and freedom of movement. You know a minuscule microchip implant can carry every detail of your medical record, your marital status, anything and everything can be on that chip. Just think how much faster you could get through airport security, for example. You know you just walk through a loop of some kind and all of a sudden everything can be scanned. I don’t know if there are any other control mechanisms under development; I don’t think anyone knows. Conditioning and convenience, I think it makes us use our brains less. Human beings cannot cope with things that denigrate or totally distract the human brain. If you go into a store, notice how many people cannot give you correct change without the use of a calculator or the readout on the till. Right there you know that something is going on because we are not using the brain and the brain needs exercise. It needs memory and it needs to think in order to have freedom of thought and action. Grammar and language structure disappears in the age of texting, because it becomes possible to communicate some things in a vague way without them. But when we don’t use appropriate language and proper grammar, we cannot really be certain of what is being said, and this goes for proper punctuation as well. We become conditioned to vagueries, incomplete ideas and nebulous reasoning. In this manner, structure in the brain, and the structure in how the brain functions is being degraded, and the degradation that comes with lack of structure is bound to have a negative impact on the organisation of the brain. It also impacts on what we see and what we perceive and what we understand about what is going on around us. In my view, this makes us more susceptible to manipulation and control.
Katina Michael: Yes. I have been approached by numerous individuals who have undergone brain operations. And these are not psychologically disturbed persons. These are persons who have received implants for example for things like epilepsy treatment so they don’t have to take drugs for the rest of their lives or have unexpected seizures. And very sadly quite a few who have contacted me have begun to suffer side effects which are not well documented. And I think the moment that we place electro stimulators in our body, especially in the brain, we need to be very cautious, yes there is a prosthetic purpose to the operation to a given endeavour, but right now I am seeing lots of grant money in research institutes all over the world and governments, really focusing on brain implantables. Already, we are going down the path of having sufferers of major depressive disorder to adopt electrostimulators. So right now, purportedly, in the eyes of the medical fraternity, it is a correct exploratory practice, but how long will it be before these individuals begin to speak out en masse because of the side effects they are enduring. For example, some of them are feeling some disturbed emotive senses in their body, as a result of additional or over stimulation, others are hearing voices when they never previously did, others are having extreme feelings of joy when they do not wish to be feeling so high. So what do you see in the future that we will be told to get these devices for convenience, for diagnostic purposes, for not cure but for prevention, will these stimulators be used for various parts of the body, what do you see happening?
Lazar Puhalo: The idea of stimulating various parts of the brain or body as medical treatments sounds very good. It is being used for Parkinson’s Disease and clinical depression as well as experiments in neurological areas. Neuroscientists are trying to figure out the locus of human consciousness, and whatever else one can discover with the use of probes that are implanted into the brain. Overstimulation is a possible problem with some of them. Allow me to speculate that we could create psychiatric illnesses in people using these or similar devices because one can artificially stimulate parts of the brain that are not normally stimulated in this manner. This could surely become a dependency after a while. I do not see how this could continue in the brain like that without having side-effects which are unforeseen. Part of the experiment is to discover to what degree one could actually control the brains of human beings. All of these brain stimulation devices work on brain chemistry and electrical circuits. We have little idea, and only guesses as to what experiments are taking place behind the scenes. You have people with clandestine interest seeking how such developments can be used in national intelligence services and interrogation, of those who are simply interested in to what degree one can control the human brain. That is part of the issue; what else will these things be used for? Well we have enough experience throughout history that we know they’ll be used for nefarious things as well as for positive. No technological device will ever be used exclusively for good. Evil can be very subtle and, to borrow Hanna Arendt’s pithy expression, quite banal. Only seldom something that is very dramatic. So electro-stimulation for pain, say in damaged nerves in the spine, has been developing and is at stages where we can do considerable benefit, and this beneficial use is increasing. These devices will become so commonplace. If we can catalogue reasons to use them, we may, for instance, be able to interject into the depression and despair loop in the broadman 25 area of the brain, or use stimulators on so many other medical ways. Perhaps we will be able to change or level off dopamine when it causes problems, or activate the medial prefrontal cortex in sociopaths and elicit empathy or an active conscience, who knows? That is why in the short-term we can use these things for medical and prosthetic uses, but we might also be able to create mental illnesses, or forms of schizophrenia so people start hearing voices, or they are overstimulated in ways that can resemble bipolar syndrome. They could, perhaps, be controlled like Sergeant Shaw in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. Others might simply like to develop robots to carry out their will.
Katina Michael: Yes, geronta, indeed. I am hoping to write up some case studies. But I anticipate the medical fraternity will likely attempt to dismiss these as one off scenarios but I think we have to start somewhere.
Lazar Puhalo: Antichrist means “in place of Christ” not “against Christ.” And that is the whole deception. You know some people look at aspects of transhumanism as something beneficial. Dimitry Itskov, for example, is a humanitarian, and he is profoundly interested in prosthetic devices. From his point of view he’s looking at a new freedom for mankind, at mankind’s survival in the long term. He represents the highest elements of this field... But on the other hand, I think there are a lot of people who want to peddle immortality in this life, and without the effort of faith... This does prepare us for the concept of a whole lot of rewards without the necessity of what is required. We will get all these things ourselves through some form of technology. In fact we are being conditioned to accept the Antichrist by becoming antichrists ourselves...
Katina Michael: I’ve often thought about the whole notion of how the Antichrist will come into fruition or will come as a person to the Earth. We know that he will be born of a woman but we can speculate how science will allow for a particular type of birth and life in the future. That he will come, we know because it has been prophesied throughout the Bible and especially in the Book of Revelation.
Lazar Puhalo: It is a set of prophecies that we read at the beginning of Great Lent. The Antichrist will sit in are built temple and demonise the whole world from that place. In former times, the question always arose, “how could he do this?” In the late 1600s, the holy prophet Saint Kosmas the Aitolian explained it in a prophetic vision of technology, that included satellite broadcasts and monitors... if we have enough war, fear, and terrorism, somebody who comes along and can suddenly offer peace and proper distribution of food and water, who would not follow him? In fact, we are being desensitized. It is a desensitisation of Christians. That is part of the issue too, desensitisation and conditioning go together.
Katina Michael: I am very appreciative that you have emphasised “in place of” because when we look at the notion of the mark of the beast, this is also in place of the seal of baptism, the mark is an overriding of that seal of baptism given to us.
Lazar Puhalo: We have a lot of people who come to the Monastery for our liturgies, and in the first week of the month Holy Unction is offered. We anoint on the forehead and the hands. I tell people ahead of time, “now remember we are putting the seal of Jesus Christ in the place where the Antichrist would like to put his seal and we do not leave space for him. We do this also in order to keep people from becoming desensitized.
Katina Michael: Yes, and I think when we look at Holy Unction for the healing and care of our body and soul, I as a parishioner feel exactly what you have said, but the only person who has ever said that to me is my husband, because of the forehead and right hand mentioned in Revelation 13: 16-18. This is when we leave the Church, when we are absent from the services and do not participate in the Holy Sacraments, then we forget about the seal. And if we are being distracted, and we are being conditioned, then it becomes easy for us to be manipulated, we become like marionette puppets.
Lazar Puhalo: Oh yes, indeed. You know the things that draw away our focus so often take our focus away from Christ, away from the condition of our own soul, and away from the struggle that we have, as individuals as well. And it is too easy to forget that we are not called to a “Christianity,” but rather to a life in Christ... Humanity is really made in the image and likeness of God, no matter how dark and dim it has become, that beauty remains. The life in Christ leads us to regain that free humanity instead of trying to create a new humanity in our own distorted image. Everything is being seen in some kind of distorted view that leads people to want to perpetuate fallen-ness rather than to lift one up to something higher and better. So isn’t transhumanism essentially trying to make our fall immortal? Our sinful nature immortal? Death was certainly not a punishment from God, but rather a result of separation from God, and a certain benefit in that because of death, sin could not become immortal. Immortality can come only by grace through Jesus Christ... And yet we have a life-span within which to repent and receive that grace. Yet when we look at transhumanism, and set our hope on it, there is no need for repentance or grace at all, is there? So what the concept here is to perpetuate the fallen and sinful human nature, and to do so through human ingenuity and our technology.
Katina Michael: Geronta, I know as followers of the Lord, we do not have fear of what is coming because we know as we have been told in the Book of Revelation that it is a book of victory. The enemy powers are no match for the Holy Trinity. But what is your personal human fear of the future you will live in still?
Lazar Puhalo: I won’t be around much longer but the concern I have is this idea that the fallen human nature is the best form of the human nature. Remember that it is “through fear of death” that mankind is held in bondage... Transhumanism is, in many ways, motivated by this fear and a desire to conquer death through technology. That is just a reality. But for the future, if we continue in such a way that the fallen human nature is seen as a kind of perfection then the world can only become less livable. That is my real concern about the future, since food and water shortages and other aspects of global climate change will test our humanity and moral concepts to the limit. Think of these crises taking place in a world where the human in the pursuit of the fulfilment of the passions is thought to be the best possible mode of existence... The loss of the concept of a moral conscience and the idea that the passion of the moment is the ultimate reality is surely a definition of a hell on earth.
Katina Michael: Yes, geronta. One of my fellow collaborators and I from the USA have been looking into online temptation, and online sin, and looking at video games. We could talk about the music industry and about the film industry in particular but I’ll park that for a moment. But if you look at video games, whereby people are engaged in sexually immoral behaviour, they are murdering online, committing adultery online, respawning and measuring a kill rate ratio, and more. Some of the addicted gamers are clocking up more than 50% of their physical lifetimes in online virtual environments where they can have more than 15 avatars. But is this perpetuating like a broken record as you’ve described this eternal sinful state because immortality on earth would be like this kind of battle. Do you think the video games are dulling the senses?
Lazar Puhalo: One might suggest that most of these are dulling the senses. One of the biggest marital problems that we come up against is video pornography. But it has become a norm. Often it begins as a pop up, but eventually, for too many men, it becomes habitual... We ourselves can become so vacant and empty we have a huge vacuum in our own spiritual life and in our hearts that we ourselves can impact on the world around us only if we realise we are trying to struggle to acquire the Holy Spirit and to have a life in Christ rather than some “Christianity”.
Katina Michael: Yes Geronta, I concur. And it is the title of that great book by Saint John of Kronstadt, “My Life in Christ” tells us this.
Lazar Puhalo: Yes, indeed, indeed. People often ask me “what should I read? What should I read from the Holy Fathers?” Read Athanasios “On the Incarnation”. If you just read that and nothing else, then it is enough. What does it mean that Christ became man? If He wasn’t here to deliver our human nature itself from its bondage what would we have? Yet we are being taught to keep our human nature in that bondage. It’s the fear of death that motivates this, and, what is hell but to be held in bondage? Transhumanism responds to that doesn’t it? It responds to it without God and without Christ, without morality. The result would be immortality without any sense of morality. It sounds like the worst nightmare you could possibly have. It sounds like hell.
Katina Michael: Yes, not being able to see the light. And the image that was conjuring up in my imagination as you were describing what an immortality on earth would actually mean for us humans. I kept thinking of those old vinyl records, and you’ve got an old broken record that goes round and stops at the scratch? I thought imagine being locked up in a room in darkness and listening to one of those broken records for eternity. It would be just so painful, in fact it would be hellish.
Lazar Puhalo: We joke that hell is where Canadians have to listen to an eternal replay of the constitutional debates. But it is like any of the passions. Repeated fulfilment of any given passion eventually becomes boring, so it has to be made more exciting, more extreme. This is why the ultimate fulfillment of the sexual passions is death– generally someone else’s death, but sometimes even suicide. At a lower level, sexual boredom leads to sado-macochism, and that may explain the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey. It may also explain the shocking increase in the sexual abuse of children and child pornography. It is a fact that the sexual abuse of boys is, in 80% of the cases, done by heterosexual near relatives or close family friends, not by homosexual men. This is likely a result of the boredom of excess sexual freedom. But one can explore the same route in other of the passions as well. In a way, feeding the passions has become a major aspect of our contemporary society, and it is driven in a large measure by the advertising agency – the modern serpent of Eden.
Katina Michael: This reminds me very much of a presentation I once gave on technology upgrades, where I presented Zeno’s Paradox on getting from A to B. You’re always closer and closer to the final destination but you’ll never quite reach there. If all you are concerned about is the earthly “fix”, then you’ll never get there. We will never get immortality through earthly means.
Lazar Puhalo: Zeno was ahead of Heisenberg with the uncertainty principle. Even if the arrow can reach its destination, one can never measure both its exact location and its speed. One sees people with food addictions, what we call gluttony– whatever they eat is never enough; there has to be more. That is why I say the advertising industry is a serpent of Eden. It is always telling us we need one more, you need another one, that happiness is only a purchase away. Not long ago, a young man in California actually killed another kid because he wanted a brand of tennis shoes that his friend had but were too expensive for his parents to buy. He just had to have that, so he killed the other boy and took them.
Katina Michael: That just doesn’t make sense at all.
Lazar Puhalo: But that is what the advertising industry can do to people, that is what its business is really. Some while ago, I was on the way to speak at the University of Miami and along the way, we passed a billboard that proclaimed, “IF YOU WANT IT, YOU NEED IT.” It is banal but evil, a slogan that Satan would be proud of.
Katina Michael: Can you tell us about your forthcoming book?
Lazar Puhalo: I call it “The Ethics of the Inevitable.” I hope to explore the ethical aspects of those developments which are surely coming that we might consider best left undone. What are the ethical implications of such developments as artificial intelligence, robotics, life extension methods, avatarism, etc. Most of these developments take place in the military-industrial complex, and most of them have a primary function in more sanitised and less public killing. War has become an economic necessity, even while it costs nations vast sums. Technology can, overall, reduce the costs while keeping the military/war based economy afloat. Sales of arms and weapons is a major export income for industrialized nations. Rather like the war on drugs that actually sustains the drug trade, keeping the profits high enough that the risk of death or imprisonment is offset by the economics of the drug trade. The drug trade is a major aspect of the GDP in America today. We need to look at the ethics regarding all these matters; they are all inevitable.
Katina Michael: Does it specifically look at robotics?
Lazar Puhalo: It specifically looks at robotics, primarily the reality of robots as slave labour. You are likely aware of the development of robot prostitutes. The announced aim is the reduction of STDs, however, the reality is a robot as sex slave. One is reminded of the chilling theme of the novel, The Stepford Wives. But that theme is becoming more and more possible to one degree or another. The other aspect develops on a reality that we already deal with, the dispensable human. Another is the aspect of transhumanism that involves the use of a robot surrogate. What are the ethical questions? I am avoiding too much the expression “morality” because it is, in effect, a subjective religious term. Even though every religion thinks that it has the absolute in moral terms, there are no absolutes this side of the heavenly kingdom, and I do not wish to deal with something that people will see either as an absolute, or as a challenge to their religion’s version of the absolute. In the end I can make an epilogue from an Orthodox perspective, here is what we see about the moral of the issues and how the main dogmas of the faith addressed them. This is something one of my theological heroes Anthony Khrapovitsky, Metropolitan of Kiev wrote about in the main dogmas of the faith. His idea was not to give an exposition of the dogmas but show that each of the main dogmas underpins our daily moral struggle in an existential manner. It is not just a bunch of words, but they have concrete meaning to our concept of humanity, to the moral dimension of being a human.
Katina Michael: When will the book come out?
Lazar Puhalo: I hope to finish it by January of 2016.
Katina Michael: Wonderful. I was reminded of the Paschal Troparion. “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” And recently, I was reading a very small booklet that was put together by St Stephen Press. The book contained three sermons delivered by Anthony Bloom in the early 2000 period. The book was titled Death and Bereavement, but in actual fact it was a book on life. And it was really about our humanity and how we are to face death.
Katina Michael: It is now easier for men to be with robotic prostitutes. Some of these men own a dozen different robots for sexual pleasure because it is easier to be with them because they are not expensive, it is a one off cost, you do not have the other baggage that comes with a human being that have problems and challenges and illness, but the birth rate has dropped so badly, and we have seen the same thing in China by female foetuses have been aborted and so female companions are scarce and women are being kidnapped from one rural location and forcedly told to marry a man from a different location because we have this imbalance we have created ourselves.
Lazar Puhalo: Well you know one of the things that bothers me the most about the abortion of female foetuses is that it develops a testosterone society, which is by nature violent. Of course the utter denigration of women is quite shocking.
Katina Michael: So geronta, what is the solution? What are the steps forward? Is resistance to these new technologies a futile thing to be talking about; is societal education possible or are we powerless as a society in the face of big business? What are the ways to overcome this problem, or this set of big problems?
Lazar Puhalo: One might suspect that if Christians begin to be what we are supposed to be we could have an impact. So much of Christianity is really based on hate and fear and that drives the majority of the younger generation away. It is notable that, at least in North America, Christians reshape their faith to match their political leanings rather than the other way round. Christ is seldom at the centre of either. We have to try and recapture what it means to have a life in Christ rather than trying to make Christ a spokesman for the political party we belong to. The only power that we can possibly have to influence the spiritual transformation of another person is co-suffering love.
Katina Michael: So I deduce from that geronta that there can never really be a spirit in machinery. There can never be a God-breathed spirit in a machine anyway.
Lazar Puhalo: There can never be any kind of spirit in such devices. No matter what we do with artificial intelligence, they will always do what we program them to do and what we tell them to do. We want mechanical slaves, so we would not want them to be sentient, have emotions or a soul.
Katina Michael: Is the concept that is being proposed as the Singularity related to anything prophesied in the Book of Revelation. Has it got any implications for our faith?
Lazar Puhalo: I certainly think it has implications for our faith, but I don’t know how it connects to the Book of Revelation. The singularity means that we come to an omega point of some kind, and there are two points of view with respect to the singularity. Alexander Panov relates it our general evolution where the Snooks-Panov curve of human development curves upward until it becomes perpendicular. Another view, related to this, suggests that the singularity is a point at which artificial intelligence outstrips human intelligence and the intellect. We are, of necessity, over simplifying the overall concepts here. This clearly has profound implications for our concepts of humanity. Mechanical devices, by whatever name, are likely to be amoral and amorality can be more powerful and destructive than clear immorality.
Katina Michael: Yes, I think that helps greatly. I think when we look at the climax of the Book of Revelation and the number of the beast, 666. One of the responses is for us to keep focus on our faith and the events will take care of themselves whenever God deems for them to occur.
Lazar Puhalo: When the mark of the beast actually comes along, people who are faithful will recognise it, I don’t think we will have to guess.
Katina Michael: Oh I agree. There will be no guessing. I think those who will be taken over by the presence of the Anthichrist, who will be fooled by the peace and security and joy of being conditioned, and welcoming that conditioning, won’t be duped either. I think the Lord will make it clear to us in these times. And there will be, as some of the early church fathers have written, there will be the period of calm and then the period of terror.
Lazar Puhalo: Yes. But it is all about total dehumanisation. My book “Freedom to Believe” asserts that the ultimate freedom is only the freedom of the soul. Someone may can take away your physical freedom but you can maintain your freedom and the freedom in the soul, in the mind.
Katina Michael: Yes. “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
Lazar Puhalo: Two things that Dostoyevsky wrote about in Crime and Punishment, were precisely about God’s co-suffering love manifested in the co-suffering love of a believer that brings Raskolnikov to total repentance and the renewal of his inner person. The power of co-suffering love and the power of repentance are primary in the transformation of the inner person into the “glorious freedom of God’s children.”
Katina Michael: Which gets back to empathy, and so much more.
Lazar Puhalo: Yes, God has empathy with us. And Christ has empathy with us, and we are commanded to have empathy with our neighbour.
Katina Michael: Are we to expect Geronta, this mark or this number of the beast, to be a technological development of some sort, a payment scheme of some sort, or we best not enter into dialogue on that?
Lazar Puhalo: It could as well be the mark of soul that has surrendered itself to bondage, bondage to material desires which can lead to a desire for bondage to a system that promises them; bondage to the passions that leads to bondage to a system that advances and approves of them.
Katina Michael: Geronta, thank you for the blessing of being able to speak with you so openly on these topics.