The brave new world of going beyond Part I: A short introduction to Transhumanism
I have often wondered what is wrong with me, why I keep feeling like the eternal outsider. Perhaps I have now found what I was looking for all along, a synthesis of ideas that match my feelings more closely than any other: Transhumanism.
Transhumanism is not new. Transhumanism is happening right now, in the minds and actions of people all over the world. Transhumanism also happened in the past. Transhumanism is past, present, and future, because it is us.
A bit about me and why I find transhumanism interesting
I grew up travelling the world, because my Mum worked overseas for about 2-3 years at a time, and then the whole family had to move around with her, wherever she went. Me and my brothers repeatedly changed countries, schools, friends, and were constantly bombarded with new sensations, different social settings, and human cultures. every school system presented its own challenges, new peer groups formed constantly around us and dissolved again, we were accustomed to airports and other forms of transport, as we left our home town to move abroad.
This has given us an immense opportunity to get to know different settings, landscapes, foods, scents, cultural impressions, political systems, and ways of life, but also imprinted in me a sense of strangeness, of not belonging anywhere, really. Maybe it is because I was not prepared for the great impressions I received from constantly travelling and never really coming to rest, maybe it was due to my character (which tends to be a bit cynical) that I didn’t fully appreciated being moved around a lot and never having my own, never-changing place to stay. I don’t know this for sure, but I can say that it affected my worldview, and maybe has made me more prone to bouts of anger about the human condition and lack of closeness with others, a strong dissociation. For I often saw and still see my surroundings through a detached lens, I am often the observer of others, but rarely the one who actively interacts. I am often the disinterested third wheel in a relationship and never the one initiating close contact. I am often more intested in old buildings and historical figures than real humans and the lived experience.
I think that is why I am also more into science-fiction-related-material than I was before. I often considered sci-fi to be close to lunacy and not very practical. But this view has changed, and I am increasingly more interested in (a) what it is/means to be human, and (b) how technology and ideas can be applied to ameliorate the human condition.
I started googling transhumanism and came to wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transhumanism) to get an understanding about what it is (really) about, as it had only ever really existed as a vague idea in my head.
According to wikipedia, transhumanism is seen as “a continuation of humanism and Enlightenment thinking”. Transhumanist concepts tackle “the applications of advanced sciences to human biology” and a major focus of the movement is “the application of science to better the (individual) human condition, the improvement of human bodies…”. Transhumanists generally seek a control of human evolution and the use of new technologies to achieve that.
Another aspect of the movement is the critical stance towards biological determinism, and biology in general, as transhumanists tend to “see the very concept of the specifically ‘natural’ as problematically nebulous at best, and an obstacle to progess at worst”.
Transhumanism is a movement encompassing various thinkers and topics affecting the way humans live and the potential for human life in the future. It is geared towards a goal that is a sort of utopia, a reference point for the future: posthumanism.
Posthumanism is something to strive towards, as this quote exemplifies: ” They [transhumanist thinkers] predict that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label ‘posthuman’.
Cognitive liberty, morphological freedom, procreative liberty
I personally cannot conceive of a time where transhumanist ideas were not in vogue or under scrutiny from various political parties and segments of society, and I used to be an Archaeology student. I think in humans there is a great motivation to strive to better things, to affect one’s environment, to change and adapt, to create and experiment, and to initiate ‘progress’.
A lot of humans want to gain knowledge about their environemnt (nature), their selves (human body and mind), and their abilities (boundaries and powers to transform). We wouldn’t have cars and tall buildings and complex social interactions if it weren’t for this desire to strive for progress.
Also, I think there’s still a great need for humans to “become more than human”, to exceed our limited potential and be the creatures that we envisage to be, but whose abilities we do not yet own. We look towards something greater than us to strive for, just like a child watches a sibling and tries to be as good at sports as them. There’s a competitive element there, perhaps a need to show off, to leave one’s mark, to create something new and exciting.
Transhumanism has to do with redefining humans and what life in the future could be like. It involves a lot of theorizing, but also has very practical applications. Eventhough this type of philosphy is called transhuman and even confronts us with menacing words such as ‘posthumanism’, it is not removed from humanity, humanism, and the human, because it is produced by humans, shaped and criticised by humans, and its efforts are to increase the quality of human life. It is no anti-human philosophy. Humans are at its centre, its focus is on making life better for individuals around the world.
I think individual choice is a major concern for transhumanist thinkers, and that’s another reason why this movement has become attractive for me. I don’t agree with every aspect of it, nor do I fully understand what it entails. I’m not really scientifically-minded, and have trouble understanding scientific concepts and mechanisms, but I like creative thinking and the expansion of thought. I wonder where it can lead and what it means for us common folk.
In the next post i would like to highlight some of the concepts of transhumanist thinkers, some more practical applications, and include some more personal commentary.