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Transhumansm; Post-Human and Trans-Human

1. What is transhumanism?
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:

(1) 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 capacities.

(2) 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.

Transhumanism can be viewed as an extension of humanism, from which it is partially derived.
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”.

It 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.

Through 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 unwanted aging.
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.

Transhumanism 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 organization.

References:
World Transhumanist Association. http://www.transhumanism.org

1.2 What is a posthuman?
It 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.)

Many 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.

Posthumans 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.

Some 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.

It 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 networks.
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.

Posthumans 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.

1.3 What is a transhuman?
In 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 definite answer.

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.

The 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 values.
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.

References:
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.


 
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