Transhumanism is generally defined as: an intellectual and cultural movement that supports the use of science and technology to improve human mental and physical characteristics. The movement regards aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and death as unnecessary and undesirable.
Humans have had transcendentalist impulses as far back as the 3rd century with quests for quick cures to stave off aging and death. As one legend goes, Ponce De Leon launched an expedition to find the fountain of youth – but what he discovered instead, was Florida.
It’s human nature to dream of transcending one’s mortality. We both fear and yearn for science to find a way to extend our lives, to make us unbreakable or super human. - - - The word “transhumanism” appears to have been first used in 1927 by Julian Huxley, evolutionary biologist and the first director-general of UNESCO, in Religion Without Revelation, Huxley wrote:
The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself - not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity. We need a name for this new belief. Perhaps transhumanism will serve: man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature.
There is a enormous variety of opinion within transhumanist thought. Many of the leading transhumanist thinkers hold views that are under constant revision and development, which makes for a difficult summarization of this culture. Some of the more distinctive trends on transhumanist ideologies are listed here.
Many transhumanist thinkers predict that human beings will eventually be able to transform themselves into super beings with greatly expanded abilities and strength. Ihab Hassan, a literary theorist, once stated: “ Humanism may be coming to an end as humanism transforms itself into something one must helplessly call posthumanism.”
So what is it to be a post-human? According to the World Transhumanist Association: Posthumans could be completely synthetic artificial intelligences, requiring some combination of genetic engineering, anti-aging therapies, neural interfaces, advanced information management tools, memory enhancing drugs, and wearable computers.
Posthumanism can also be found in our pop culture. Take for example, David Bowie’s space alien character Ziggy Stardust – he bent the human norm by blurring the lines between age, gender, and race, and in 1971 he even declared, &quot;homo sapiens have outgrown their use&quot; and &quot;got to make way to the homo superior.&quot;
Hollywood has long been building the posthuman. In the TV series, the 6 million dollar man – Steve Austin is “rebuilt” with bionic implants that enhance his strength, speed and vision far above human norms. The show was a big hit in the 1970s, and featured the very transhumanist tagline: We can rebuild him – we have the technology.
So where are we on this road to transhumanism? Is transhumanism the logical next step on our evolutionary path? Is it possible to augment our physical and mental weaknesses with computer hardware and software? The technology to assist with this leap is closer than we might imagine, in fact – we might already be there.
Film critic, Roger Ebert, who lost his voice after complications from thyroid cancer, was given a new voice by a company called CereProc that used hours of archived recordings of Ebert's commentary to reconstruct the sound of the his voice. Instead of producing flat computerized voices, the company says its voices include realistic, emotional dimensions.
Does this mean that if we were to record our voices and keep a detailed diary, we could “quote, unquote - live forever”? Would you consider having your mind uploaded to a database if it was the only way to continue as a conscious being? What kind of abilities – or even software apps – would you want to add to your avatar?
Imagine being fitted with a personal memory device - an adaptive memory technology that records and indexes every single moment of your life. Once installed, the device could capture and upload all your memories to a centralized database for indexing, search, and recall. This sounds like science fiction, but the technology for creating it exists today.
In 1999, artificial intelligence expert, Ray Kurzweil predicted in his book - “The Age of Spiritual Machines” that machines with human-like intelligence will be available from affordable computing devices within a couple of decades, revolutionizing most aspects of life, and that eventually humanity and its machinery will become one and the same.
So what will the world look like in the next couple of decades? For transhumanists, it is possible that our human population could be filled with the posthumans we’ve become accustomed to on our televisions. What kinds of advantages could this give the human race? How will transhumanist technologies help you and your family?
The transhumanist movement doesn’t need to stop with humans – it could reach pets too. This technology could be used on our pets to extend their lives and wellness through science. And when Fluffy dies, instead of taking him to the veterinarian to be cremated, you could take him to the lab to be downloaded and reanimated.
Surely celebrities, in their quest for ageless beauty and physical perfection, will go full on cyborg. Kate Moss, instead of advertising the latest diet craze, might instead show us how she uses the latest system upgrade to stay thin. But since physical augmentation is in essence transhumanist – maybe transcendence has already begun?
When Michael Jackson was alive, he used technologies such as plastic surgery, skin-lightening drugs, and a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, that transformed his persona to such a degree that he transcended gender, race, and age. With all the promise for a better future that transhumanism seems to offer, not everyone is excited - -
- - one self-described socially progressive organization, the Center for Genetics and Society, has come into existence with the specific goal of opposing transhumanist agendas that involve modification of human biology, such as human cloning and genetic engineering. Others fear that technology will someday supersede nature.
But still, transhumanism persists. From The Transhumanist Declaration of 2009: “Humanity needs to be profoundly affected by science and technology in the future. We envision the possibility of broadening human potential by overcoming aging, cognitive shortcomings, involuntary suffering, and our confinement to planet Earth.”
“ The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself - not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity. We need a name for this new belief. Perhaps transhumanism will serve: man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature.” - Julian Huxley, “Religion Without Revelation”
“ Humanity needs to be profoundly affected by science and technology in the future. We envision the possibility of broadening human potential by overcoming aging, cognitive shortcomings, involuntary suffering, and our confinement to planet Earth. ”