By: JACK M.
Sometimes referred to as H+, Transhumanism is a worldwide, inter-disciplinary, avant-garde intellectual movement whose beliefs and goals are that humans can be, and someday will be, transformed into a super species, a vastly improved version of ourselves, physically, psychologically and intellectually. At the very core of Transhumanist thinking is the rejection of the long-held premise that whatever it is that actually makes us human is an unalterable constant. Transhumanists believe our inherent flaws and limitations can be overcome with existing, emerging and even hypothetical technologies, and life as we know it now will become extinct. It may be only a matter of time before human life as we understand it will be supplanted by a posthuman species, as superior to us as we are to chimpanzees. And the great irony is this transformation will not be through the usual process of evolution but through us. We will be the genesis of this metamorphosis. We will be the navigators to the new world. We will be the Transhumanists – the architects of the new posthuman species.
Our species may someday be transformed into a super species, a vastly improved version of ourselves, physically, psychologically and intellectually.
The search for, and fascination with, a way to overcome our limitations and mortality go back to the beginnings of recorded history. The third millennium B.C. Epic of Gilgamesh tells of a hero who seeks immortality. In addition to his incalculable contributions to physics and mathematics, Isaac Newton was also a practitioner of alchemy, the pseudo-science that sought the so-called elixir of life. The 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche pondered over the idea of a super-human, what he called the Übermensch. And today, of course, we have a bevy of Hollywood super-humans in Wonder Woman, Superman, Electra, Batman, Iron Man and many more.
The difference, of course, between the super-humans of Hollywood and the those of Transhumanist doctrine is that the latter are very real. And I’m not talking here about robots that cook, clean and play fetch, or about the routine regeneration of body parts in a laboratory, or even brain transplantation—these things will undoubtedly be achieved within a few decades. What I am talking about here is the convergence of existing leading-edge technologies such as nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, cryonics, genetic engineering, regenerative medicine, mind uploading and gene therapy, which will change and enhance the very makeup of our DNA. This re-engineered DNA will then replicate, eventually replacing all pre-existing and inferior members of our own species with posthumans—Homo super-sapiens, if you like.
Just as the last Neanderthal breathed its last breath some 40,000 years ago, it may only be a matter of time before human life as we know it will be supplanted by a posthuman species, as superior to us as we are to chimpanzees.
All these technologies have been with us for some time now and are quietly being enhanced, exploited and experimented with in government agencies, think tanks and privately-financed institutions around the world. Pro-Transhumanist organizations like HumanityPlus, the Life Extension Foundation and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies all are manned and operated by a veritable who’s who in the worlds of science, ethics and philosophy. Despite being spoken of only in hushed tones, many front-line universities are actively pursuing research in gene therapy, stem cells and artificial intelligence; Arizona State University, Samford University and Oxford University, to name a few, are all contributing to the conversation . And there is no shortage of an army of self-proclaimed “futurists” like Ray Kurzweil, Judith Hand and Hans Moravec who keep the movement alive and well.
And what are some of the characteristics that posthumans might possess? Disease would be a thing of the past. Instead of being inevitable, aging and death would be voluntary processes, and the human body may be seen as little more than a prosthesis that can be connected to, and disconnected from, machines at will. We will control our emotions, not the other way around. Religion, along with some of the more commonly-accepted political and social constructs like liberal democracy, communism, theocracy, military, education, dictatorship and monarchy, will be relegated to the ash heap of history; even the nation state could be little more than a footnote in the annals of the human narrative. Language as we know it will become unnecessary. The individual capacity for intelligence and knowledge will have no bounds, and mind uploading will be a common practice. In summary, our descendants would be a species of super-humans—not cyborgs, part biology and part machine—but living, breathing, breeding, thinking, super-enhanced versions of ourselves.
The human body may be seen as little more than a prosthesis that can be connected to, and disconnected from, machines at will.
Transhumanism, of course, has its detractors and critics. The American political scientist and historian Francis Fukuyama has declared it to be among “the world’s most dangerous ideas.” Many of the world’s religious leaders have also protested in one voice, with the Vatican claiming that “Changing the genetic identity of man as a human person through the production of an infrahuman being is radically immoral.” But perhaps the most common objections—and perhaps the most valid—are that we are tampering with ideas about which we know very little, that the emergence of a race of super-humans will foster eugenics, and that power will inevitably end up in the hands of those few who control the technologies, rekindling the imaginings of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four or Huxley’s Brave New World.
However, win, lose or draw, the pursuit of perfection and the dream of immortality are forces within us that are no less immutable than the instinct for survival. Transhumanism is a notion whose time has come, and it’s not going away any time soon. Only the philosophers and historians of a future age will have the benefit of hindsight in deciding whether Homo sapiens deserved the sobriquet of “wise man” after all.
Would a race of super-humans foster eugenics? And would power inevitably end up in the hands of those few who control the technologies?