What currents are there within transhumanism? Is extropianism
the same as transhumanism?
There is a rich variety of opinion within transhumanist thought.
Many of the leading transhumanist thinkers hold complex and
subtle views that are under constant revision and development
and which often defy easy labeling. Some distinctive –
although not always sharply defined – currents or flavors
of transhumanism can nevertheless be discerned:
name is derived from the term “extropy”, coined
by T. O. Morrow in 1988, referring to “the extent of a
system's intelligence, information, order, vitality, and capacity
for improvement”. Extropianism is defined by the Extropian
Principles, a text authored by Max More (1998), who co-founded
the Extropy Institute together with Morrow. Version 3.0 of this
document lists seven principles that are important for extropians
in the development of their thinking: Perpetual Progress, Self-Transformation,
Practical Optimism, Intelligent Technology, Open Society, Self-Direction,
and Rational Thinking. These are meant to codify general attitudes
rather than specific dogmas.
This strand of transhumanism advocates both the right to use
technology to transcend the limitations of the human body and
the extension of democratic concerns beyond formal legal equality
and liberty, into economic and cultural liberty and equality,
in order to protect values such as equality, solidarity, and
democratic participation in a transhuman context (Hughes 2002).
Another transhumanist current is represented by advocates of
“paradise-engineering” as outlined in David Pearce
(2003). Pearce argues on ethical grounds for a biological program
to eliminate all forms of cruelty, suffering, and malaise. In
the short-run, our emotional lives might be enriched by designer
mood-drugs (i.e. not street-drugs). In the long-term, however,
Pearce suggests that it will be technically feasible to rewrite
the vertebrate genome, redesign the global ecosystem, and use
biotechnology to abolish suffering throughout the living world.
Pearce believes “post-Darwinian superminds” will
enjoy genetically pre-programmed well-being and be animated
by “gradients of bliss”.
Singularitarian transhumanists focus on transhuman technologies
that can potentially lead to the rise of smarter-than-human
intelligence, such as brain-computer interfacing and Artificial
Intelligence. Since our present-day intelligence is ultimately
the source of our technology, singularitarians expect the technological
creation of smarter-than-human intelligence to be a watershed
moment in history, with an impact more comparable to the rise
of Homo sapiens than to past breakthroughs in technology. Singularitarians
stress the importance of ensuring that such intelligence be
coupled with ethical sensibility (Yudkowsky 2003) [see also
“What is the singularity?”].
This is not so much a specific version of a transhumanism as
a research direction: the study of the constraints, possibilities,
and consequences of potential future trajectories of technological
and human development, using theoretical tools from economics,
game theory, evolution theory, probability theory, and “theoretical
applied science” i.e. the study of physically possible
systems designs that we cannot yet build. For some examples,
see Bostrom (2002, 2003a) and Hanson (1994, 1998). Investigations
of ethical issues related to the transhumanist project –
the project of creating a world where as many people as possible
have the option of becoming posthuman – can also be included
under this heading (see e.g. Bostrom 2003b).
Transhumanism as a network of people who share certain interests
and like to spend long hours conversing about transhumanist
matters on email lists or face-to-face.
in arts and culture.
Transhumanism as a source of inspiration in artistic creation
and cultural activities, including efforts to communicate transhumanist
ideas and values to a wider audience [see also “What kind
of transhumanist art is there?”].
5.3 How does transhumanism relate
Transhumanism is a philosophical and cultural movement concerned
with promoting responsible ways of using technology to enhance
human capacities and to increase the scope of human flourishing.
not a religion, transhumanism might serve a few of the same
functions that people have traditionally sought in religion.
It offers a sense of direction and purpose and suggests a vision
that humans can achieve something greater than our present condition.
Unlike most religious believers, however, transhumanists seek
to make their dreams come true in this world, by relying not
on supernatural powers or divine intervention but on rational
thinking and empiricism, through continued scientific, technological,
economic, and human development. Some of the prospects that
used to be the exclusive thunder of the religious institutions,
such as very long lifespan, unfading bliss, and godlike intelligence,
are being discussed by transhumanists as hypothetical future
is a naturalistic outlook.
At the moment, there is no hard evidence for supernatural forces
or irreducible spiritual phenomena, and transhumanists prefer
to derive their understanding of the world from rational modes
of inquiry, especially the scientific method. Although science
forms the basis for much of the transhumanist worldview, transhumanists
recognize that science has its own fallibilities and imperfections,
and that critical ethical thinking is essential for guiding
our conduct and for selecting worthwhile aims to work towards.
fanaticism, superstition, and intolerance are not acceptable
In many cases, these weaknesses can be overcome through a scientific
and humanistic education, training in critical thinking, and
interaction with people from different cultures. Certain other
forms of religiosity, however, may well be compatible with transhumanism.
should be emphasized that transhumanism is not a fixed set of
dogmas. It is an evolving worldview, or rather, a family of
evolving worldviews – for transhumanists disagree with
each other on many issues.
The transhumanist philosophy, still in its formative stages,
is meant to keep developing in the light of new experiences
and new challenges. Transhumanists want to find out where they
are wrong and to change their views accordingly.
Bostrom, N. “Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction
Journal of Evolution and Technology. (2002), Vol. 9. http://jetpress.org/volume9/risks.html
N. “Are You Living In A Computer Simulation?” Philosophical
Quarterly. (2003a), Vol. 53, No. 211, pp. 243-255. http://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.html
Bostrom, N. “Human Genetic Enhancements: A Transhumanist
Journal of Value Inquiry. (2003b), forthcoming.
R. “What if Uploads Come First: The Crack of a Future
Extropy, Vol. 6, No. 2 (1994). http://hanson.gmu.edu/uploads.html
R. “Burning the Cosmic Commons: Evolutionary Strategies
for Interstellar Colonization.” (1998). http://hanson.gmu.edu/filluniv.pdf
J. “Democratic Transhumanism.” Transhumanity, April
28, 2002. http://www.transhumanism.com/articles_more.php?id=P52_0_4_0_C
Pearce, D. The Hedonistic Imperative (version of 2003). http://www.hedweb.com/hedethic/hedonist.htm
M. “The Extropian Principles, v. 3.0.” (1998). http://www.maxmore.com/extprn3.htm
E. “What is the Singularity.” (2003). http://www.singinst.org/what-singularity.html
from Version 2.1 (2003) TRANSHUMANIST FAQ by Nick Bostrom
*Faculty of Philosophy,Oxford University.
10 Merton Street, Oxford OX1 4JJ, U. K.