Transhumanism: A Philosophical Question

Oh, give it up already. That pun’s too good to waste… or is it?
Source: Nerf NOW!!

It’s been a while since I sat down to wax philosophical and just let my mind wander in thought.

So recently, I played a quick one-shot game of Eclipse Phase with friends. This along with a recent Twitter post from Nash of Radio Dead Air has got me thinking about the nature of Posthumanism.

I think what fascinates me so much about Posthumanism as a philosophy is that there are so many schools that come at the problem of the human condition from different angles. Ideologies and theories like Antihumanism, AI takeover, and Voluntary Human Extinction take a more pessimistic view of humanity and sometimes even believe that we need to be removed for the sake of the planet’s well being.

More philosophical schools like Cultural Posthumanism and Philosophical Posthumanism seek to question the very notion of human nature while taking a closer look and the ethics of a life beyond humanity.

But the thing everyone has most likely associated with Posthumanism, and the thing I’ve been thinking about more these past few days, is Transhumanism – a movement/ideology that seeks to use science and technology to transcend our mental and physical limits; i.e., enhance our strength, halt aging, improve cognitive functions, etc.

Now, I know people on both sides of this debate. A lot of people are afraid that tinkering with the things that “make us human” (stem cell research, Synthetic Biology, etc.) is morally repugnant. But there’s also a more pragmatic way of thinking about this.

Every time the technology has arisen to improve how we do things, we’ve leaped at the chance to use it and incorporate it into our everyday lives. For the most part, this has meant the use of tools and improving them instead of ourselves.

Perhaps what is needed here is think of what we consider as “human” about ourselves as merely our psychological components (ego, personality, memories, etc.) and look at the body that houses them as just another tool to be improved on. After all, “human” is merely a title that we give ourselves and self-granted titles are totally subjective anyway.

Besides, don’t you want to have the power to graft a cybernetic exoskeleton to a quadriplegic person to make them walk again, alter our genome to fight genetic disorders, or slow/stop aging so you can play with your grandchildren for years to come? That seems like an awesome future to me.

But hey, this is about YOUR opinions as well as mine. What do you think about Transhumanism? Should we leave well enough alone and let nature run its course with us or is it our moral obligation to use science and technology to improve our minds and bodies anyway we can?

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3 thoughts on “Transhumanism: A Philosophical Question

  1. The thing is that we aren’t going to step over some line somebody drew somewhere and start calling us transhumans. Instead the transitioning will be gradual (maybe so gradual in some places that we don’t even realize it) and it has begun long time ago already. Implants to improve mobility (hip replacements) and hearing (cocher implants), not to mention various heart implants (implantable cardiverder defibrillators for example) are already being used. I suspect that in general they are viewed as good and beneficial. And since they’re part of the same spectrum of enhancements cybernetic exoskeletons and artificial eyes, I see that we’ere going to slowly progress on those areas as well.

    When it comes to modifying our genes, we’re already doing that (or we’re rather modifying genes of our children). Many countries offer prenatal screening as part of healthcare and notify parents if there’s increased risk of birth defect. Some parents choose to terminate the pregnancy, while some choose to let the child be born. In the end we’re still modifying (if ever so slightly) distribution of certain gene combinations.

    I think it’s a good idea to use the knowledge we have to improve our lives. Where I see problems is that some of this research is extremely expensive and there’s always someone who wants to monetize the results. The effect is that improvements are first available to few rich and only later (if ever) to poorer people. I’m not saying that all the expensive research should be done just for good cause, but sometimes monetization schemes look really ugly. Humanity as a whole has to be able to solve this problem somehow.

    • Oh wow, I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a comment with so many thoughts in it yet. Ha ha.

      I honestly don’t like the term Transhuman and only use it for lack of a better term. Like I said, I consider our psychological components the parts that make us human and any alterations to the body and brain – provided they don’t affect or remove those components – can’t change that. So I do agree with your statement on “[not stepping] over some line somebody drew somewhere and start calling us transhumans.”

      I regret not taking more time to discuss the transhumanist tech that we’re using already. If you want to get technical, anyone with a pacemaker, hearing aid or prosthetic limb can qualify as a cyborg and, by extension, a “transhuman.” So, it’s kind of silly to be concerned about something that we’ve already embraced as a positive. So, again, I agree with you on that point.

      I think where most people have disagreements on transhumanist technology is in genetics. Things like Synthetic Biology and Genetic Engineering are relatively young in comparison to other scientific fields and people get spooked easily by new things they don’t understand (hence the moratorium that was called on SynBio a while back). There are legitimate concerns among them granted, but I, like you I imagine, just don’t want progress on the technology that could improve our quality of life halted because of uninformed fear. That’s why I encourage thinking of the body as a tool that we have an obligation to maintain and improve upon as opposed to a thing that makes us superficially human.

      The economics of it is a major sticking point and the one thing I haven’t been able to find an adequate answer for that would please everyone. I imagine that advancements in manufacturing technology (3D printing is allowing for cheaper, durable plastic and metal products and is being explored for use in designer medications and replacement organs via stem cells, all custom tailored to the needs of the client) will help drive down the cost a fair bit, but I would like to see something more done in researching ways to make transhumanist tech more widely available. In fact, if more people felt like they would be able to have access to them, it would probably allay a lot of people’s fears.

      Anyway, thank you for your VERY thoughtful comment. I’m glad to see you enjoyed my musings. :)

  2. Pingback: Archive news: Interuptions and Milestones | The Awkward Agent's Archive

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