There’s a lot of really cool stuff on this website. We have robots, powered prosthetics, genetic engineering, and so much more. Googling for any of this stuff could have brought you here, but that’s not actually what this site is about.
Instead, it’s about a philosophy and an overarching idea about what it means to be human, and our destiny as a species. It re-imagines what it means to be human and how we can plot our way into the future. It’s a philosophy that holds at its core the belief that human beings can transcend their limitations to become something more than they are.
The Hand of Fate
Why are we the way we are? Human beings are the results of a long evolutionary process that spans billions of years into the past. We are the most intelligent and arguably most successful species to emerge from the vast variety of life on Earth; the result of an unbroken chain of evolutionary successes.
This does not mean that we’re the end of that chain, however. Humanity has room for improvement in many different ways.
Taking it Day-by-Day
Over the course of history and especially during the 20th century, our knowledge of the universe and our own biology has improved dramatically.
The list of diseases that we cannot cure or manage grows shorter every year. We can restore hearing to those who would have been deaf 100 years ago. Recently we’ve started doing the same for the blind. The average lifespan is now steadily climbing to the natural limit our genetics and current bodies will allow.
We are steadily mastering the art of how to make humans who are broken in some way whole again. Over the coming decades advancements in genetic engineering,biotechnology, AI, robotics, and many other scientific disciplines will likely eradicate most if not all the things that can go wrong with a human being.
We Have the Technology
Already people have realized you don’t have to stop at restoring people to “normality”. Since technological development marches ever on, why not make people better than they were before?
For instance, why not give people sensory acuity that goes beyond what nature gives us? Seeing in infrared or hearing ultrasound are examples. Instead of prosthetics that give our limbs back, why not make those limbs stronger and faster?
One of the most important aspects of transhumanism is delaying or abolishing death itself. Apart from injury and illness, aging is the main cause of death. As we eliminate the other two causes it will become the number one killer.
There are many reasons why we age and die, but in principle there is no reason why each of those factors cannot be addressed.
Who Wants To Live Forever?
Significantly extending the lives of human beings may be one of the most important breakthroughs we can make as a species. Many of the problems that we face are difficult to solve within a natural human lifespan.
Interstellar travel is one of these. Since it’s unclear if faster-than-light travel will ever be possible, the only other option that remains is to somehow endure the centuries in space. One way to do this is simply live longer.
Our relatively short lifespans also contribute to poor short-term decisions. Environmental problems such as global warming would bother people more if they thought they’d still be around in 100 or 200 years.
Do the Robot
Why struggle with a biological body at all? Another strong current of thought in the transhumanism world suggests that we should become machines ourselves, either by becoming cyborgs with a mix of mechanical and biological parts or by uploading copies of our minds into robot bodies or virtual worlds.
This is one of the most radical examples of being transhuman – becoming something wholly other than human.
Smarter Than the Average Bear
Not content to just make us physically better or extend our lives as we are, transhumanism also means increasing our intelligence, both as individual people and as a species. How this will be achieved is an open question at this point. Already today we have a class of drugs known as “nootropics” that have a small but measurable effect.
Today we have a number of emerging brain implants that are used for rehabilitation, but in the future brain implants may add abilities to the brain that it did not have before. Imagine being able to do mathematical calculations or learning any skill in an instant. As research on the neural language of the brain continues we’ll see more and more direct-implant brain augmentations. For example, in 2016 Bryan Johnson’s company Kernel raised $100m to develop an intelligence-boosting chip.
Of course, long before that it’s likely that we’ll have direct brain interfaces that will allow us to communicate with computers using nothing but the power of our brains. Direct stimulation of the visual cortex or optic nerves could pave the way to augmented and virtual reality without any external electronics.
Not History Yet
These are just some of the ideas that have come from the transhumanist movement over the years. The different applications, technologies, and fields of science are impossibly broad. But, they all still center around this one idea that human beings can be more than they are and only we have the power to change our own fate.
When did this school of thought begin? It’s hard to say, since the idea of transcendence is as old as humanity itself. Virtually all cultures have some idea that when we die or when we do certain things we become more than human. There are lots of legends where normal human beings become deified or somehow become something more, or other, than human.
The key difference is that transhumanism tells us that we can use technology to transcend our humanity. This is something that probably first emerged in science fiction in the 20th century, but actual scientists were also in on the idea from an early stage. It’s a logical progression of thought – once we can cure heart disease, what about hearts that never get sick? What about a heart that can pump twice as well?
While a long list of people have contributed to transhumanist thought, there are a few names that you should take note of if you really want to get into this field in a meaningful way.
The first person who has to be on such a list is not one of the earliest or even most important transhumanist thinkers. He is, however, one of the most readable ones and he’s probably done the most to make the public aware of transhumanism. That person is Raymond Kurzweil.
Yes, that’s the same Kurzweil from the company that makes music equipment and pioneered early voice-recognition technology. Kurzweil has written several books on transhumanism that soberly looks at the present and future of the technologies that underlie the movement.
Other notables include aging expert Aubrey de Grey, nanotech expert Eric Drexler, bioethicist George Dvorsky, and Hans Moravec. Not all of these people would label themselves as transhumanists, but their work and writing definitely plays an important role in transhumanist thought as a whole.
What Does it Mean to Be Transhumanist?
Asking what transhumanism is differs from asking what it means to see yourself as transhumanist.
First and foremost, before any of the technology stuff applies, transhumanism is a form of humanism. Many of the values humanism espouses are also present in transhumanism, they just apply to more than just human beings.
Transhumanism is more concerned with beings of a humanlike or greater intelligence level. In many transhumanist texts you’ll read about personhood and how an AI or a genetically-engineered animal may be smart enough to qualify for it. Many transhumanists may be bothered by the treatment of highly-intelligent animals such as chimpanzees and dolphins.
Equality, freedom of choice, freedom of thought, and an overall striving for the maximum well-being of all intelligences play a central role in much of transhumanism. In other words, someone who is pro-human augmentation but does not have any of these values doesn’t really qualify as a transhumanist.
In addition to this, transhumanism also demonstrates other humanist values such as a lack of belief in the supernatural, a belief in moral capacity, and trust in logic and reason. To be a transhumanist means taking these values and striving to express them at their best, using science and technology.
The Future is Uncertain
Transhumanism has often been accused of being an irrational, almost religious movement for smart people. It’s utopian and unrealistic, they say. These critics of course miss one of the fundamental facts about transhumanists. Transhumanist don’t have dogma or an absolute belief in their desires coming true. There is no guarantee that any of the ways transhumanism thinks the world ought to be is how the world will be. However, to pursue a goal you have to define a goal.
There are many opponents to the ideas in transhumanism. Some people believe that humans should stay within the limitations of human biology and psychology. There are very good logical and philosophical arguments for this and we all should read them, but in general this opposition is driven by emotion and constrained thinking.
Make Yourself at Home
The rest of this site isn’t going to deal much with the philosophy of transhumanism, but more with all the cool things being created that could make a transhumanist future a reality. So even if you don’t agree with all or even any transhumanist ideas, you should still feel welcome to explore every inch of this site if you have any interest in the technologies themselves.
What matters is that you allow your imagination to go where we ourselves cannot or will not yet go.