Sunday, May 13, 2012

What is Transhumanism?

Apologies for not posting sooner-- work has really been kicking my keester this last week.

My last post elicited a comment from Matt, who asked what the difference was between humanism and Transhumanism.

I confess I'm not enough of an expert on humanism, whether the 18th century variety, the modern Secular Humanism (of which I do not consider myself an adherent), or any other variant, to give a cogent reply on that side of the question. Google tells us the definition is:
  1. An outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.
  2. A Renaissance cultural movement that turned away from medieval scholasticism and revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought.
So, given that, I do feel I am a bit more qualified to give a more in-depth definition of Transhumanism, and leave the comparisons to the reader.

Transhumanism is the attempt to overcome the limitations of the human condition through the application of technology.

In those 17 simple words are worlds of implication. It must first and foremost be understood that Transhumanism is not the same as mere technophilia. While it is true that Transhumanists are, as a rule, technophiles, it is not the case that all technophiles are necessarily Transhumanists.

What separates Transhumanists from technophiles (or, from humanists in general) is the willingness (I might even say desire) to transcend the very limits of the human species. To go "beyond human", as the literal meaning of the term "Transhumanist" entails.

This includes such things as radical life extension, bionics and other forms of "body hacking" such as performance-enhancement devices and substances, mind-machine interfacing (some even taking it to the point of total mind uploading), genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and total body sovereignty (called by some "morphological freedom"-- personally that sounds a bit high falutin', and I doubt that the average man on the street even knows what it means).

Transhumanists range across the political spectrum from the radical left to the ultra-libertarian to the radical right. There's currently one large organization (HumanityPlus, linked over at the right), but there are many many smaller ones scattered hither and yon. It's way too fragmented to be considered a cult (which is, strangely, one of the first questions I'm asked when I give lectures on the subject). A cult with such a diverse membership, no single organization, and no guru-type leader? That fails the test. It's best considered a philosophy, or, perhaps more optimistically, a movement.

So, does that answer the question? I doubt it, as Transhumanism is amorphous by its very nature. As we come up with new technologies that would have been literally unimaginable 30 years ago, we continue to envision new ones.

What sets the Transhumanist apart from the rest of the herd is his willingness to keep going. An IQ of 500? An indefinite lifespan? Bring it on. We don't see being human as any great achievement in and of itself, except as a launching pad to step into the next phase of being, where the physical and mental limitations of being human are totally surpassed. And when we do so, I am willing to wager that we'll see new limits to overcome.

At least, I will.

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