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Transhumanism

Transhumanism describes an emergent school of speculative philosophy which is predicated on the idea that the human species does not represent the endpoint of evolution but rather the beginning of a new self-directed evolutionary era, sometimes referred to as the post-Darwinian era.

Transhumanism is also concerned with investigation into the implications of social, technological and scientific means of overcoming physical human limitations, and is also a movement which argues the case for fundamentally altering the human condition through these means. It is concerned with ethically expanding technological opportunities for all people to live longer and healthier lives, to enhance their intellectual, physical and emotional capacities and to enjoy a future of freedom and prosperity.

Transhumanists generally support present-day technologies such as genetic engineering (including of humans), cryonics, and advanced uses of computers and communications; as well as future technologies such as space travel, cloning and uploading of human minds into computer simulations. Typically, transhumanists believe that the rapid advances in technology will lead in the foreseeable future to the creation of Artificial Intelligence beyond anything conceived of in the Turing Test, and that this will lead inexorably to radical progress in such fields as nanotechnology and sub-molecular engineering.

The pace of technological development is steadily increasing, leading many forward-thinkers to speculate that the next 50 years will yield remarkable and radical technological advancements. Consequently, a new paradigm for thinking about humanity's future has begun to take shape. The "human condition," it holds, is not the constant it appeared to be, and future innovations will allow humans to shape their physical, emotional and cognitive characteristics as they see fit.

Transhumanism maintains that this is good and that humans can and should become more than human through the application of such technological innovations as genetic engineering, nanotechnology, neuropharmaceuticals, prosthetic enhancements and mind-machine interfaces.

"Transhumanism is more than just an abstract belief that we are about to transcend our biological limitations by means of technology; it is also an attempt to reevaluate the entire human predicament as traditionally conceived," says Transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom. "And it is a bid to take a farsighted and constructive approach to our new situation."

Table of contents

Enlightenment and humanistic roots

Following in the tradition of Enlightenment-influenced 19th century political, moral and philosophical thought, Transhumanism seeks to build upon the global knowledge base for the betterment of all humankind.

Derived from the philosophical traditions of secular humanism, Transhumanism asserts that humans should be viewed as the "center" of the moral universe, and that there are no supernatural forces that guide humanity. While largely a grassroots and broadly based movement, Transhumanism does tend toward rational arguments and empirical observations of natural phenomena; in many respects, Transhumanists partake in a culture of science and reason, and are guided by life-promoting principles and values.

Specifically, liberal-minded Transhumanism seeks to apply reason, science and technology for the purposes of reducing poverty, disease, disability, malnutrition and suppressive governments around the globe. Many Transhumanists actively assess the potential for future technologies and innovative social systems to improve quality of all life, while seeking to make the material reality of the human condition fulfill the promise of legal and political equality by eliminating congenital mental and physical barriers.

Beyond humanism

Transhumanism can be interpreted as a progressive libertarian bioethic that goes beyond humanism, however. It does not accept "human nature" as a given, but instead looks to continuing and accelerating the process of expanding and improving the very nature of human beings themselves.

There exists an ethical imperative for humans to strive for progress and improvement, argues Transhumanism. If humanity enters into a post-Darwinian phase of existence in which humans are in control of evolution, random mutations will be replaced with rationally, morally and ethically guided change.

To this end, Transhumanists engage in interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and evaluating possibilities for overcoming biological limitations. This includes the use of the various fields and subfields of science, philosophy, economics and natural and sociological history.

Transhumanist spirituality

In many respects Transhumanism seeks to actualize the goals and hopes traditionally espoused by religions. While mostly atheistic or agnostic, many Transhumanists describe themselves as being very spiritual. In fact, a disproportionately high number of Transhumanists follow Eastern philosophical traditions, especially secular Buddhism.

Rather than trusting in the existence of a transcendent soul, materialist Transhumanists believe in the computational compatibility of biological minds with future machine minds -- with the theoretical implication that human consciousnesses can someday be uploaded into alternative mediums. Consequently, most Transhumanists prescribe to personhood bioethics.

Rather than believing that immortality can be achieved after death, Transhumanists strive for immortality by not dying; through the development of radically advanced health technologies and anti-aging medical practices, Transhumanists hope to establish an open-ended lifespan, to make death a purely voluntary decision.

And rather than hoping for eternal bliss in heaven, many Transhumanists strive for a technological singularity, techno-utopia or, at the very least, a future world filled with much less suffering and strife than today's.

History of Transhumanism

The Iranian-American futurist F.M. Esfandiary, who later changed his name to FM-2030, coined the term "Transhuman" (short for 'transitional human') in 1966 while teaching at the New School for Social Research. The term was subsequently used in Abraham Maslow's Toward a Psychology of Being (1968) and in Robert Ettinger's Man into Superman (1972).

FM-2030, Maslow and Ettinger used the term to refer to people who were adopting the technologies, lifestyles and cultural worldviews that were transitional to posthumanity. In his 1989 book Are You a Transhuman? FM-2030 wrote that Transhumans "are the earliest manifestations of new evolutionary beings. They are like those earliest hominids who many millions of years ago came down from the trees and began to look around."

In the early 1980s, FM-2030 befriended Extropy Institute founder Max More's future wife, Natasha Vita-More, and later became a friend and supporter of More and Extropianism. Extropianism is a Transhumanist philosophy based on the principles of perpetual progress, self-transformation, practical optimism, intelligent technology, open societies, self-direction and rational thinking. It is considered by many to have a libertarian flavour. The Extropy Institute was established in 1992 to support Extropians and promote Extropianism, and is one of the most active Transhumanist groups in the world.

In 1997, Nick Bostrom and David Pearce co-founded the World Transhumanist Association, with a slightly different flavour from the Extropians. "It was to be an autonomous and more broadly based grouping that would share the technological liberatory concerns of the Extropians, but allow for more political and ideological diversity than tolerated by the Extropians," noted James Hughes, who became the WTA's secretary. The WTA brand of Transhumanism has been dubbed Liberal Democratic Transhumanism.

The WTA quickly established The Journal of Transhumanism and began working toward the recognition of Transhumanism as an academic discipline. More recently, it elected a board of directors, renamed its journal the Journal of Evolution and Technology and launched a Webzine called Transhumanity.

Acting as an umbrella organization, the WTA has spawned a host of chapters around the world, including active chapters in New York, Toronto and Chicago. In total there are nearly two-dozen formed or forming local groups -- one on virtually every continent. A dozen Transhumanist groups in the US, Europe, South America and Asia have also formally affiliated with the WTA, including the Extropy Institute.

Transhumanist Declaration

In 1999, with help from such contributors as Nick Bostrom, David Pearce, Max More, Anders Sandberg, and Kathryn Aegis, the WTA compiled the Transhumanist Declaration. It declares the following:

  1. Humanity will be radically changed by technology in the future. We foresee the feasibility of redesigning the human condition, including such parameters as the inevitability of aging, limitations on human and artificial intellects, unchosen psychology, suffering, and our confinement to the planet earth.
  2. Systematic research should be put into understanding these coming developments and their long-term consequences.
  3. Transhumanists think that by being generally open and embracing of new technology we have a better chance of turning it to our advantage than if we try to ban or prohibit it.
  4. Transhumanists advocate the moral right for those who so wish to use technology to extend their mental and physical capacities and to improve their control over their own lives. We seek personal growth beyond our current biological limitations.
  5. In planning for the future, it is mandatory to take into account the prospect of dramatic technological progress. It would be tragic if the potential benefits failed to materialize because of ill-motivated technophobia and unnecessary prohibitions. On the other hand, it would also be tragic if intelligent life went extinct because of some disaster or war involving advanced technologies.
  6. We need to create forums where people can rationally debate what needs to be done, and a social order where responsible decisions can be implemented.
  7. Transhumanism advocates the well-being of all sentience (whether in artificial intellects, humans, nonhuman animals, or possible extraterrestrial species) and encompasses many principles of modern secular humanism. Transhumanism does not support any particular party, politician or political platform.

Transhumanism has no rigid doctrines, but the Transhumanist Declaration is a good summary of its core ideas.

Contemporary Transhumanist culture

As proponents of personal evolution and self-creation, Transhumanists tend to utilize technologies and techniques that improve cognitive and physical performance, while engaging in specific routines and lifestyles designed to extend health and prolong life.

Many Transhumanists seek to become posthuman, the next significant evolutionary step for the human species. It is supposed that specific biotechnological and nanotechnological innovations will facilitate such a leap by the midpoint of the 21st century. Depending on their age, some Transhumanists worry that they will not live to reap the benefits of these future technologies, however. Accordingly, they have a great interest in life-extension practices and, as a last resort, cryonic suspension.

Transhumanists are also forming regional and global networks and communities to provide support and forums for discussion.

Opponents and critics of Transhumanism

Transhumanists may characterize their opposition as Luddites, and point to such notorious examples as Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who was convicted of sending parcel bombs to prominent people in key technology industries, killing three people and severely wounding two others. Although he published a long manifesto that critiqued the ideal of giving up human powers to machines, it should be noted that Kaczynski wrote in his private journals "I believe in nothing, I don't even believe in the cult of nature-worshipers or wilderness-worshipers." His doctrine was itself mostly a negation, and his actions did not demonstrate any great breakthrough in ethics.

A more notable critic, if not opponent, is Bill Joy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, who argued in his essay "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us"[1] (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy_pr) that human beings would guarantee their own extinction by transhuman means.

British Astronomer Royal Martin Rees[?] cautions in his book Our Final Hour[?] that advanced science and technology brings as much risk of disaster as opportunity for progress. Rees does not advocate a halt to scientific progress, but tighter security and perhaps an end to traditional scientific openness.

Advocates of the precautionary principle, such as the Green movement, favor slow, thorough progress or a halt in potentially dangerous areas.

The conservative political economist Francis Fukuyama wrote in the book Our Posthuman Future[?] that transhumanism (and posthumanism) may critically damage the liberal democratic[?] political system through the alteration of human nature and the undermining of human equality.

A proponent of transhumanism who shares most of Bill Joy's analysis but not his fears is Hugo De Garis[?], who nonetheless predicts "a gigadeath war" in which those who seek to remain humans or remain safe as unaugmented humans will fight to the death to destroy the proponents of transhumanism, e.g., wave after wave of smarter Unabombers killing every last AI researcher. According to De Garis, however, the transhuman program is so appealing that it will ultimately survive, and triumph, regardless of violent opposition.

Critics of transhumanism state that it is typical of transhumanists that they define victory as inevitable, much as Marxists did. This, according to the anti-futurist Max Dublin[?], seems to provide a certain fanaticism and nihilism useful in advancing such causes.

See also: Posthumanism, Superhuman, Transhumanist socialism

External links There are several transhumanist organisations in existence, including

Good transhumanist portal sites include Some transhumanists are



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