On BioScience and Life and Such

Diving into Transhumanism I

In Transhumanism on May 2, 2008 at 7:34 am

Endpoint: Become a Transhumanist or not.

This first post records my introduction to Transhumanism. Emphasis is put on counter-arguments as the transhumanist texts can be as alluring as those of a religious sect. This skepticism creates an objective barrier protecting my feeble (subjective and feeling) soul.

On the World Transhumanist Association website theres a section called “Transhumanist values“, divided into 5 sections:

1. What is transhumanism.

It promotes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding and evaluating the opportunities for enhancing the human condition and the human organism opened up by the advancement of technology

Both present and future (yet unknown or emerging) technologies are included. Also included are terms normally associated with Science fiction, like space colonization and the creation of superintelligent machines as well as cryonics. All this, while certainly sounding weird and strange, I guess is harmless. Harmful potential however, emerges from….

an evolving vision to take a more proactive approach to technology policy. This vision, in broad strokes, is to create the opportunity to live much longer and healthier lives, to enhance our memory and other intellectual faculties, to refine our emotional experiences and increase our subjective sense of well-being

These all sound like good values, but it’s important to note that they contain problematic issues like cloning, human sorting, drug use and abuse, and lastly, but most importantly, the hard to avoid increase in social/intellectual/health inequalities between those with resources to access the technology and those without such resources.

2. Human Limitations

The range of thoughts, feelings, experiences, and activities accessible to human organisms presumably constitute only a tiny part of what is possible.

Which is probably true. The goal is to increase access to these yet unknown layers of the universe. A mind boggling perspective, – and an intriguing one too.

It is not farfetched to suppose that there are parts of this larger space that represent extremely valuable ways of living, relating, feeling, and thinking.

It is equally not farfetched however, to assume that there are parts of this space which will prove to be highly unattractive, or even dangerous to us. Also as I will touch upon in later posts, the means of enhancing cognition have inherent dangers especially if drugs are involved.

3. The core transhumanist value: exploring the posthuman realm. The desired endpoint of Transhumanism is the “posthuman” being, which will probably be markedly different from our present existence. The time in between us as human beings today and the posthuman being, the world will be populated by transhumans. Foreseeing the features of the posthuman being and finding ways to get there, is what transhumanism is about. The labels that Transhumanism puts on these processes however, are only fancy names for evolution in a modern technology driven world. No need for a separate ideology to see that the future human will be different from he present one. Nevertheless this vocabulary can prove useful in discussions on ways to responsibly achieving a better future.

4. Basic conditions for realizing the transhumanist project. This section outlines the dangers of uncritically embracing progress in technology. Restricted access to the technology is mentioned as one danger, global security (where the need to ensure sustainable development is underlined) is another one. A new technology should not be used if it poses…

Existential risk – one where an adverse outcome would either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential.

And that is reassuring to me. Still, on a negative note, I do feel that this section on possible dangers is suspiciously short compared to the other sections.

5. Derivative values. For the individual, these are freedom, individual choice, education, critical thinking and open-mindedness. A caution is added:

In cases where individual choices impact substantially on other people, this general principle may need to be restricted, but the mere fact that somebody may be disgusted or morally affronted by somebody else’s using technology to modify herself would not normally a legitimate ground for coercive interference.

These are values I can easily identify myself with, but maybe one should caution also that individuals should be protected from themselves. Receptive, uncritical individuals lacking suitable knowledge in a given field will be in real danger when presented with hyped up inventions (personal genomics is an example). Common values on the other hand include research, public debate and open discussion. It is stated that collectively…..

We will need all the wisdom we can get when negotiating the posthuman transition.

How this wisdom is to be applied as a a normative social superstructure is not specified though, and this is clearly a challenge.

In summary, my impression of Transhumanism is divided between the still prevailing enthusiasm and (what I now find as) justified skepticism. It seems clear to me that the implementation of these ideas needs a solid, commonly accepted social framework to avoid negative repercussions. That said, such a framework may not be impossible to carve out.

More quotes to end this introduction:

“Transhumanism is a philosophical and cultural movement, not a religion. Transhumanism does not offer answers about the ultimate purpose and nature of existence, merely a philosophical defense of humanity’s right to control its own evolution. Consequently the transhumanist philosophical stance is compatible with humanist interpretations of the world’s religions.

On the other hand, transhumanism is generally a naturalistic outlook and most transhumanists are secular humanists. Although scientific rationalism forms the basis for much of the transhumanist worldview, transhumanists recognize that science has its own fallibilities and imperfections, and that critical ethical thinking is essential for guiding our conduct and for selecting worthwhile aims to work towards. Religious fanaticism, superstition, and intolerance are not acceptable among transhumanists.”

The following posts will dive deeper into the depths and specifics of the philosophy. And the final decision on becoming a Transhumanist or not still remains…….

  1. […] Transhumanist or not (previous posts Epiphany: Transhumanism, – not ? and Diving into Transhumanism I and […]

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