Notes: Transhumanism

Image resultAs we venture into questions about the future of humanity, and the specific visions that prominent individuals and groups hold regarding that future, we must immediately consider the people who see no future for humanity at all.

First stop: the Transhumanists.

You are probably a Transhumanist if you believe any of the following statements to be true:

1. If you freeze or vitrify your brain just at (preferably, just before) the moment of your death, you could come back to life in the future when technologies evolve to make resuscitation and life-extension possible.

2. When the procedures become safe and affordable, it would be a good idea to get a few cybernetic implants in your body — electronic things under your skin or attached to your skull, giving you extra senses that you currently lack (examples might include “feeling” the Earth’s magnetic field or “hearing” X-rays) or even linking your brain directly to a computer, so that you can use the Internet just by thinking.

3. When computers and artificial intelligence systems have become sufficiently advanced, you will be able to “download” (or “upload”, if you prefer a rising metaphor) the contents of your mind and all your memories into a new, far more durable and physically superior platform — so that you become either a computer-based, bodiless intelligence (that is somehow still “you”), or that your consciousness is housed in an advanced robotic form (which means it could be of any shape, from humanoid, to whale-like, to inceivably alien in design). And this future is something you are genuinely looking forward to, and perhaps even actively working toward.

4. In any case, conquering physical death — through medical science, merging with machines, or some other as-yet-unknown method — should be a high priority for humanity.

If you do not answer “yes” to any of these questions, a real Transhumanist is likely to ask you, “Well, why not? What’s to like about death? What’s wrong with upgrading our bodies and minds, just as we do our cars and our computers?”

Very likely, the person asking that question will be highly educated, technologically literate, and relatively well acquainted with the world’s principal religious and philosophical traditions. It is not impossible that this person will also be a wealthy technology entrepreneur, or perhaps well-connected in Silicon Valley.

That’s what journalist Mark O’Connell discovered when he spent some time in the Transhumanist movement, talking with a wide variety of prominent spokespeople and experimental protagonists, resulting in a gem of immersive reporting called To Be a Machine (Granta, 2015).

Transhumanism is not a vision of humanity’s future so much as a project, a goal — perhaps even an investment opportunity. Those who embrace it range from the billionaire Trump-supporting PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, to the upstart US political candidate and volcano-surfer Zoltan Istvan, to the Google technology guru and singularity prophet Ray Kurzweil.

And yes, the leadership of the Transhumanist movement does appear to be overly represented by white men who live in California, but the movement is certainly not limited to that. In 2011, there were 400 members of the Facebook group, “Singularity Network,” which is considered an important digital watering hole among Transhumanists. By 2014, there were 2014. As of early 2018, there were over 25,000. [1]

Of course, not everyone who reads a Facebook group is making a public declaration of allegiance; and according to Facebook, I know a few of those folks, and I know they are not card-carrying Transhumanists. They are just interested in everything new, futuristic, and weird.

But there is not doubt that interest in Transhumanism is growing. To understand it — this most-futuristic of future visions for humanity — we have to go backward in time.

Before Transhumanism there was Extropianism. The word is derived from another neologism, “extropy,” which is intended to mean the opposite of entropy. If entropy is the universal law that all systems tend toward increasing disorder over time, then extropy is the process by which entropy can be stopped or reversed. And the agent of extropy is life.

The early Extropian philosophers (the word was coined in 1967) thought big. They wanted to …

IN PROGRESS – CONTINUE FROM HERE.

 

[1] Zoltan Istvan, ”A new generation of Transhumanists is emerging,” Huffington Post, 2014; and a check of the current Facebook group as of March 2018.

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