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My night with philosophers presentation - London June 8

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Humanism, Transhumanism and Posthumanism …

Humanism, Transhumanism and Posthumanism


The Humanist and the transhumanist propose different methods for cultivating human capacities. The transhumanists claims that traditional techniques favoured by the humanist run up against the limits of our biology. She believes that prospective technologies could further the humanist cause by improving our nature. However, the transhumanist faces a difficulty. Her policies could produce posthumans. Evaluating posthuman lives might be impossible for us. But discounting them is not an option because she will share responsibility for their creation. I argue that one way through this impasse is for the transhumanist to produce posthumans or to become posthuman.

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  • Hi Luke, Cheers! I should have been more specific about the occasion. I was presenting at the My Night With Philosophers event at the London French Institute. Sorry you and Dan couldn't make it. It was absolutely heaving, but a happy, fun night. Let's try and make another time. I'm in and out of London periodically, Best David
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  • Awesome presentation, really unfortunate I missed the event. Where was it? Dan O'Hara and I were in town, would have loved to have met up.
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  • 1. Humanism,Transhumanism and Posthumanism
  • 2. Humanism (H)• Human powers are importantly distinct from those of nonhumans.• Reason, Autonomy, Virtues, Culture, Technology, etc.• Human powers confer exceptional moral status.• Improving Human lives requires extending Human powers.• Extending Human powers has priority over other ethical goals.
  • 3. Humanist Biopolitics Human Nature Education PoliticsReasonAutonomyVirtuesCulture
  • 4. Transhumanist Biopolitics (H+) Human Nature Education Politics NBIC TECHReasonAutonomyVirtuesCulture
  • 5. NBIC Technologies• Nanotechnology – very fast and precise atom-scale manufacturing, programmable matter (New Materials, Post-Scarcity Economics).• Biotechnology – manipulating life and living systems at the genetic/sub- cellular level, synthetic life (Genetic Enhancement, Ageing Cures)• Information Technology – computing, cybernetics (Artificial Intelligence, Brain Machine Interfaces)• Cognitive Science – understanding the architecture and implementation details of human and nonhuman minds (Cognitive Enhancement, Mind- Uploading)
  • 6. Bad Borgs
  • 7. Cyborg Humanism ?• The promise, or perhaps threatened, transition to a world of wired humans and semi-intelligent gadgets is just one more move in an ancient game. . . We are already masters at incorporating nonbiological stuff and structure deep into our physical and cognitive routines. To appreciate this is to cease to believe in any post-human future and to resist the temptation to define ourselves in brutal opposition to the very worlds in which so many of us now live, love and work (Andy Clark, Natural Born Cyborgs. Oxford OUP: 2003, 142).
  • 8. The Technological Singularity“an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectualactivities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectualactivities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would thenunquestionably be an "intelligence explosion“ I J Good, cited in Vernor Vinge, “The ComingTechnological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era”And what happens a month or two (or a day or two) after that? I have only analogies topoint to: The rise of humankind. We will be in the Post-Human era. And for all my rampanttechnological optimism, sometimes I think Id be more comfortable if I were regardingthese transcendental events from one thousand years remove... instead of twenty. VernorVinge, “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era”
  • 9. (Speculative) PosthumanismSP: Descendants of current humans could cease to behuman as a consequence of technical alteration.
  • 10. Key features of SP• Value Neutrality – not an ethical position (unlike H/H+)• Descent is wide not just biological• Human-Posthuman difference (arguably) consists in a relation between historical individuals not concepts or abstract kinds.
  • 11. The Posthuman ImpasseDiscounting (i.e. hoping for the best) seems irresponsible.Accounting for posthumans, then, seems obligatory…….but maybe impossible.
  • 12. Solving the Impasse1. Understanding posthumans is not possible only if there is a human cognitive essence.2. There is no human cognitive essence (assumption).3. Understanding posthumans is possible (1, 2)4. Given their dated non-existence, the best conditions for understanding posthumans involve us making posthumans or becoming posthuman (True for any non-existent technological artefact).5. We are obliged to attempt to understand posthumans (Accounting).6. If we are obliged to understand something, we are obliged to bring about the best conditions for understanding it (Strong Epistemic Obligation Principle).7. We are obliged to bring about the best conditions for understanding posthumans (5, 6)Conclusion: We are obliged to make posthumans or become posthuman (5, 8)
  • 13. Further thoughts…Suppose posthuman natures are diachronically emergent. WhereA diachronically emergent behaviour or property occurs as a result of a temporally extendedprocess, but cannot be inferred from the initial state of that process. It can only be derivedby allowing the process to run its course.4 could be substituted with: 4’) Given their dated non-existence, the only conditions forunderstanding posthumans involve us making posthumans or becoming posthuman (True for anynon-existent technological artefact).This means we can get by with a more moderate Epistemic Obligation Principle:6’) If we are obliged to understand something, we are obliged to bring about the necessary (only)conditions for understanding it (Moderate Epistemic obligation).