Post-Human and Trans-Human
1. What is transhumanism?
is a way of thinking about the future that is based on the premise
that the human species in its current form does not represent
the end of our development but rather a comparatively early
phase. We formally define it as follows:
The intellectual and cultural movement that affirms
the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving
the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing
and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging
and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological
The study of the ramifications, promises, and potential dangers
of technologies that will enable us to overcome fundamental
human limitations, and the related study of the ethical matters
involved in developing and using such technologies.
can be viewed as an extension of humanism, from which it is
Humanists believe that humans matter, that individuals matter.
We might not be perfect, but we can make things better by promoting
rational thinking, freedom, tolerance, democracy, and concern
for our fellow human beings. Transhumanists agree with this
but also emphasize what we have the potential to become. Just
as we use rational means to improve the human condition and
the external world, we can also use such means to improve ourselves,
the human organism. In doing so, we are not limited to traditional
humanistic methods, such as education and cultural development.
We can also use technological means that will eventually enable
us to move beyond what some would think of as “human”.
is not our human shape or the details of our current human biology
that define what is valuable about us, but rather our aspirations
and ideals, our experiences, and the kinds of lives we lead.
To a transhumanist, progress occurs when more people become
more able to shape themselves, their lives, and the ways they
relate to others, in accordance with their own deepest values.
Transhumanists place a high value on autonomy: the ability and
right of individuals to plan and choose their own lives. Some
people may of course, for any number of reasons, choose to forgo
the opportunity to use technology to improve themselves. Transhumanists
seek to create a world in which autonomous individuals may choose
to remain unenhanced or choose to be enhanced and in which these
choices will be respected.
the accelerating pace of technological development and scientific
understanding, we are entering a whole new stage in the history
of the human species. In the relatively near future, we may
face the prospect of real artificial intelligence.
New kinds of cognitive tools will be built that combine
artificial intelligence with interface technology.
Molecular nanotechnology has the potential to manufacture abundant
resources for everybody and to give us control over the biochemical
processes in our bodies, enabling us to eliminate disease and
Technologies such as brain-computer interfaces and neuropharmacology
could amplify human intelligence,
increase emotional well-being, improve our capacity for steady
commitment to life projects or a loved one,
and even multiply the range and richness of possible emotions.
On the dark side of the spectrum, transhumanists recognize that
some of these coming technologies could potentially cause great
harm to human life; even the survival of our species could be
at risk. Seeking to understand the dangers and working to prevent
disasters is an essential part of the transhumanist agenda.
is entering the mainstream culture today, as increasing numbers
of scientists, scientifically literate philosophers, and social
thinkers are beginning to take seriously the range of possibilities
that transhumanism encompasses. A rapidly expanding
family of transhumanist groups, differing somewhat in flavor
and focus, and a plethora of discussion groups in many countries
around the world, are gathered under the umbrella of the World
Transhumanist Association, a non-profit democratic membership
World Transhumanist Association. http://www.transhumanism.org
What is a posthuman?
is sometimes useful to talk about possible future beings whose
basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans
as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards.
The standard word for such beings is “posthuman”.
(Care must be taken to avoid misinterpretation. “Posthuman”
does not denote just anything that happens to come after the
human era, nor does it have anything to do with the “posthumous”.
In particular, it does not imply that there are no humans anymore.)
transhumanists wish to follow life paths which would, sooner
or later, require growing into posthuman persons: they
yearn to reach intellectual heights as far above any current
human genius as humans are above other primates; to be resistant
to disease and impervious to aging; to have unlimited youth
and vigor; to exercise control over their own desires, moods,
and mental states; to be able to avoid feeling tired, hateful,
or irritated about petty things; to have an increased capacity
for pleasure, love, artistic appreciation, and serenity; to
experience novel states of consciousness that current human
brains cannot access. It seems likely that the simple fact of
living an indefinitely long, healthy, active life would take
anyone to posthumanity if they went on accumulating memories,
skills, and intelligence.
could be completely synthetic artificial intelligences, or they
could be enhanced uploads [see “What is uploading?”],
or they could be the result of making many smaller but cumulatively
profound augmentations to a biological human. The latter alternative
would probably require either the redesign of the human organism
using advanced nanotechnology or its radical enhancement using
some combination of technologies such as genetic engineering,
psychopharmacology, anti-aging therapies, neural interfaces,
advanced information management tools, memory enhancing drugs,
wearable computers, and cognitive techniques.
authors write as though simply by changing our self-conception,
we have become or could become posthuman. This is a confusion
or corruption of the original meaning of the term. The changes
required to make us posthuman are too profound to be achievable
by merely altering some aspect of psychological theory or the
way we think about ourselves. Radical technological modifications
to our brains and bodies are needed.
is difficult for us to imagine what it would be like to be a
posthuman person. Posthumans may have experiences and concerns
that we cannot fathom, thoughts that cannot fit into the three-pound
lumps of neural tissue that we use for thinking. Some posthumans
may find it advantageous to jettison their bodies altogether
and live as information patterns on vast super-fast computer
Their minds may be not only more powerful than ours but may
also employ different cognitive architectures or include new
sensory modalities that enable greater participation in their
virtual reality settings. Posthuman minds might be able to share
memories and experiences directly, greatly increasing the efficiency,
quality, and modes in which posthumans could communicate with
each other. The boundaries between posthuman minds may not be
as sharply defined as those between humans.
might shape themselves and their environment in so many new
and profound ways that speculations about the detailed features
of posthumans and the posthuman world are likely to fail.
What is a transhuman?
its contemporary usage, “transhuman” refers to an
intermediary form between the human and the posthuman
[see “What is a posthuman?”]. One might ask, given
that our current use of e.g. medicine and information technology
enable us to routinely do many things that would have astonished
humans living in ancient times, whether we are not already transhuman?
The question is a provocative one, but ultimately not very meaningful;
the concept of the transhuman is too vague for there to be a
transhumanist is simply someone who advocates transhumanism
[see “What is transhumanism?”]. It is a common error
for reporters and other writers to say that transhumanists “claim
to be transhuman” or “call themselves transhuman”.
To adopt a philosophy which says that someday everyone ought
to have the chance to grow beyond present human limits is clearly
not to say that one is better or somehow currently “more
advanced” than one’s fellow humans.
etymology of the term “transhuman” goes back to
the futurist FM-2030 (also known as F. M. Estfandiary),
who introduced it as shorthand for “transitional human”.
Calling transhumans the “earliest manifestation of new
evolutionary beings,” FM maintained that signs of transhumanity
included prostheses, plastic surgery, intensive use of telecommunications,
a cosmopolitan outlook and a globetrotting lifestyle, androgyny,
mediated reproduction (such as in vitro fertilization), absence
of religious beliefs, and a rejection of traditional family
However, FM’s diagnostics are of dubious validity.
It is unclear why anybody who has a lot of plastic surgery or
a nomadic lifestyle is any closer to becoming a posthuman than
the rest of us; nor, of course, are such persons necessarily
more admirable or morally commendable than others. In fact,
it is perfectly possible to be a transhuman – or, for
that matter, a transhumanist – and still embrace most
traditional values and principles of personal conduct.
FM-2030. Are You a Transhuman? (New York: Warner Books, 1989).
(Selection from Version 2.1 (2003)
TRANSHUMANIST FAQ by Nick Bostrom
*Faculty of Philosophy,Oxford University.
10 Merton Street, Oxford OX1 4JJ, U. K.