The human race towards immortality or stupidity.
The idea of immortality plays a significant role in the human life. Within every generation, and within every culture this is an issue. The Chinese incorporate this with Ba Xian, the eight immortals. Within he Indian Mythology there is Amrita. Whomever drinks from this potion will be granted with eternal life. This is also the case with the fountain of youth.
Nowadays people are still concerned with the extension of life. Transhumanists seek to improve life and expand it. Francis Fukuyama calls this the most dangerous idea ever. But is that actually true? How dangerous is this? Can people go beyond evolution and becoming cyborgs? Is Transhumanism the future?
Transhumanism is an intellectual and cultural movement that plays with the biological limits of human existence. This happens by means of nanotechnology, genetic engineering or computer technology. The ultimate goal is to significantly improve and extend human life. Deficiencies as mortality or disability can be overcome using these techniques. We are in this sense the architect of our own body and thus able to create the ultimate man, the post human. Is this a positive development? Or do we have to respect the architecture of our body?
Julian Huxley was the first scientist to use the term Transhumanism. He stated the following: ‘man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature.’ He thinks the human will eventually transcend himself. Philosopher and futurist Max More thinks that Transhumanism has a lot in common with humanism. They too attach great importance to human life in this existence. There are also great differences between the two movements.
‘Transhumanism differs from humanism in recognizing and anticipating the radical alterations in the nature and possibilities of our lives resulting from various sciences and technologies such as neuroscience and neuropharmacology, life extension, nanotechnology, artificial ultraintelligence, and space habitation, combined with a rational philosophy and value system.’ (Max More: 1990)
This movement has also a lot in common with virtuality. According to George Dvorsky the body can be seen as a machine. ‘Transhumanists recognize that their bodies are a kind of machine – one that can be studied, understood and subjected to hacks.’ In the virtual world people can adjust their bodies to their liking. This is what Transhumanists want to do with their physical body. ‘Programmers, who are used to making their computers serve their will, are now finding that low-carb diets enable the same kind of control over their bodies.’
Huxley is an out in the open Transhumanist. In his essay Evolution: The Modern Synthesis he writes:
‘I believe in transhumanism”: once there are enough people who can truly say that, the human species will be on the threshold of a new kind of existence, as different from ours as ours is from that of Pekin man. It will at last be consciously fulfilling its real destiny.’ (Huxley)
According to futurist FM-2030 (Fereidoun M. Esfandiary) Transhumanism is a transitional faze in the evolution from human to post human. A transhuman is someone who ‘by virtue of their technology usage, cultural values, and lifestyle constitutes an evolutionary link to the coming era of posthumanity.’ FM-2030 wants that everyone gets familiar with Transhumanism and get ready for the next step within evolution. ‘We also want to accelerate humanity’s thrust to the next stage in evolution. Specifically we want to marshall humanity’s genius to overcome our supreme tragedies – aging and death.’ (FM-2030)
Transhumanism doesn’t strive towards perfection according to Max More. Instead it focuses on an ‘internalized process of growth and expansion taking us into the future.’ What will this movement mean for the future of the human being? How do we have to look at this phenomenon? Max More is seen as one of the oldest and most significant Transhumanists. He pleads for a future where Transhumanism plays and significant role. ‘Now it is time to utilize the more inclusive and memetically attractive option of transhumanism’ (Max More: 1990)
Writer T.S. Elliot isn’t as positive about this movement as Max More and FM-2030. ‘You and I don’t know the process by which the human is Transhumanized: what do we know of the kind of suffering they must undergo on the way of illumination? Can we conclude that we know too little about Transhumanism? Is it dangerous like Fukuyama said? Or is it something that is part of the human evolution, as Natasha Vita-More likes to believe:
‘No matter the era or the place in history, this common thread—a desire to move forward—has become the core of futurists today and has crystallized in the transhumanist movement.’ (Vita-More)
In the contemporary society there are a variety of forms of Transhumanism. Think for instance about plastic surgery or glasses. They all are ways to improve the human body. FM-2030 takes it even a few steps further. He sees Transhumanism in: intensive use of telecommunications, androgyny and the increasing atheism. If we are to believe him, then our contemporary society has already embraced the idea of Transhumanism. But is this as far as it goes? Or do we have to improve our bodily presences in order to survive?
The misunderstanding about Transhumanists is that they want to stretch their lives. On the contrary, they don’t want to spend a few years longer in a nursing home. They just want to improve the life quality of those years. According to Humanity Plus (H+) everyone should have self-determination rights. ‘Everybody should have the right to choose when and how to die – or not to die.’
The ultimate goal of Transhumanism – as said before – is to reach the stadium of posthuman. According to Max More this can be done on two levels. First of all on the physical level: ‘We will have become posthuman only when we have made such fundamental and sweeping modifications to our inherited genetics, physiology, neurophysiology and neurochemistry, that we can no longer be usefully classified with Homo Sapiens.’ Second of all on the mental level. ‘We might expect posthumans to have a different motivational structure from humans, or at least the ability to make modifications if they choose.’ (Max More: 1994)
If we are to believe the Transhumanists we have to strive towards a more adaptable world. As Natasha Vita-more puts it: ‘As a “design” for the future, it is paramount that society develops a keener, more futuristic sense of life, and aim toward creating a world that fluidly adapts to change.’ If we want to make the transition we have to fully understand and recognize cultural changes:
‘If we cannot or do not understand the vast differences amongst people throughout the world, our future cannot be inclusive. It is the inclusively of all of humanity that will create a futuristic culture that evolves beyond arguable human restraint and hostility, territories and obsessions, labeling and segregating. (Natasha Vita-More: 1998)
Is this the world that we want we can ask ourselves? It sounds almost utopist if we can enjoy life longer and in a better physical and mental condition. Isn’t this all we ever dreamed of? With plastic surgery and freezing our dead bodies we are standing at the verge of post humanism. This is the truth if we may believe people like More and Moravec. But are the possibilities in the future unlimited? Can we even raise the death? FM-2030 believed that he could be resurrected in the future, so he decided to freeze his body after his death. If he will ever see daylight again is inconceivable.
What the future will hold is unknown. We still can’t predict it. When looking at the historical developments we can conclude that there is a high probability that Transhumanist aspect of society like plastic surgery will improve. Nowadays we are cloning skin so why can’t we clone whole bodies? And will it end there? Maybe eventually we can’t even talk about Homo sapiens anymore. What will we look like if we constantly modify our bodies in order to survive? And do still we need our bodies in a post humanist world?
Artificial life is possible according to Hans Moravec. In this book Mind Children he makes predictions about the future. ‘Human beings are essentially informational patterns rather than bodily presences. If a technology can replicate the pattern, it has captured all that really matters in a human being’ (Hans Moravec) Can we put it this easily? Are human beings mere informational patterns? What about our so-called soul? Doesn’t it exist in the theory of Moravec? Or is that also an informational pattern? It seems that his theory has quite a few flaws. How can you deduce a human being to mere information patterns?
Nick Bostrom has thought of a way in which this revolutionary hypothesis could work. The human brain should be scanned and then deconstructed. Next the neuronal network of the brain should be reconstructed and combined with computer models. Last, the new construction has to prove itself on a super computer. ‘If successful, the procedure would result in the original mind, with memory and personality intact, being transferred to the computer where it would then exist as software.’ Eventually we should be able to put these thoughts – our mind – into an artificial body.
Steven Shaviro is real skeptical about these hypothesizes. He is an authority on virtual world, but the idea of downloading yourself onto a computer is a bridge to far. ‘I am interested in other, “altered” states or levels of being, but at the same time I am suspicious of attempts to give these other states some sort of objectified reality.” (Steven Shaviro)
It is not just a question about whether this is possible, but also a question about what will happen to you if you are downloaded on a computer. What will happen if you mind is hacked or infected by a virus? Will you be gone forever if someone by accident deletes your mind? When asking yourself these questions the idea of downloading and multiplying your personality sounds insane. Personally I would think only the almighty has the copyright on your mind. But if you don’t believe in such an entity or the existence of a soul, then you are more likely to believe these train of thoughts, these hypothesizes.
The urge to develop, to evolve oneself, lies in the protocol of the human being. Transhumanism is thus a natural result of this urge. We all want to overcome our deficiencies. What we have to have in mind is that we need to be very cautious about the consequences. What will happen if we defy the laws of nature? And can we actually overcome these laws and in which degree? Only the future can tell us, but I’m not sure if we’ll live to see it. According to trans –and post humanist we will.