Transhumanism is the philosophy of using emerging technology to repair, improve, and enhance the human condition beyond its natural limits, to aid in the evolution of mankind, enable humans to survive the coming Technological Singularity and develop the species evolutionary successors, known as posthumans. Transhumanism has its philosophical roots in various areas, including the early humanist movement, the enlightenment, and Omega Point theorists like catholic theologist Theilhard de Chardin, while modern transhumanism owes its existence largely to the work of individuals like Vernor Vinge, Max More, and Ray Kurzweil, among others. It has become both an intellectual and cultural movement.
According to Nick Bostrom, transcendentalist impulses have been expressed at least as far back as in the quest for immortality in the Epic of Gilgamesh, as well as historical quests for the Fountain of Youth, Elixir of Life, and other efforts to stave off aging and death.
There is debate about whether the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche can be considered an influence on transhumanism despite its exaltation of the "Übermensch" (overman or superman), due to its emphasis on self-actualization rather than technological transformation.
First transhumanist proposals
The fundamental ideas of transhumanism were first mooted in 1923 by the British geneticist J. B. S. Haldane in his essay Daedalus: Science and the Future, which predicted that great benefits would come from applications of advanced sciences to human biology — and that every such advance would first appear to someone as blasphemy or perversion, "indecent and unnatural". In particular, he was interested in the development of the science of eugenics, ectogenesis (creating and sustaining life in an artificial environment) and the application of genetics to improve human characteristics, such as health and intelligence.
His article prompted a spate of academic and popular interest; - J. D. Bernal, a crystallographer at Cambridge, wrote The World, the Flesh and the Devil in 1929, in which he speculated on the prospects of space colonization and radical changes to human bodies and intelligence through bionic implants and cognitive enhancement.These ideas have been common transhumanist themes ever since.
The biologist Julian Huxley is generally regarded as the founder of "transhumanism", coining the term in an article written in 1957:
Up till now human life has generally been, as Hobbes described it, ‘nasty, brutish and short’; the great majority of human beings (if they have not already died young) have been afflicted with misery… we can justifiably hold the belief that these lands of possibility exist, and that the present limitations and miserable frustrations of our existence could be in large measure surmounted… The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself — not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity.
This definition differs, albeit not substantially, from the one commonly in use since the 1980s. The ideas raised by these thinkers were explored in the science fiction of the 1960s; notably in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which an alien artifact grants transcendent power to its wielder.
Artificial intelligence and the technological singularity
The concept of the technological singularity, or the ultra-rapid advent of superhuman intelligence, was first proposed by the British cryptologist I. J. Good in 1965:
Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an 'intelligence explosion,' and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.
Computer scientist Marvin Minsky wrote on relationships between human and artificial intelligence beginning in the 1960s. Over the succeeding decades, this field continued to generate influential thinkers, such as Hans Moravec and Raymond Kurzweil, who oscillated between the technical arena and futuristic speculations in the transhumanist vein. The coalescence of an identifiable transhumanist movement began in the last decades of the 20th century. In 1966, FM-2030 (formerly F.M. Esfandiary), a futurist who taught "new concepts of the Human" at The New School in New York City, began to identify people who adopt technologies, lifestyles and world views transitional to "posthumanity" as "transhuman". In 1972, Robert Ettinger contributed to the conceptualization of "transhumanity" in his book Man into Superman. FM-2030 published the Upwingers Manifesto in 1973.
Growth of transhumanism
The first self-described transhumanists met formally in the early 1980s at the University of California, Los Angeles, which became the main center of transhumanist thought. Here, FM-2030 lectured on his "Third Way" futurist ideology. At the EZTV Media venue frequented by transhumanists and other futurists, Natasha Vita-More presented Breaking Away, her 1980 experimental film with the theme of humans breaking away from their biological limitations and the Earth's gravity as they head into space. FM-2030 and Vita-More soon began holding gatherings for transhumanists in Los Angeles, which included students from FM-2030's courses and audiences from Vita-More's artistic productions. In 1982, Vita-More authored the Transhumanist Arts Statement, and, six years later, produced the cable TV show TransCentury Update on transhumanity, a program which reached over 100,000 viewers.
In 1986, Eric Drexler published Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, which discussed the prospects for nanotechnology and molecular assemblers, and founded the Foresight Institute. As the first non-profit organization to research, advocate for, and perform cryonics, the Southern California offices of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation became a center for futurists. In 1988, the first issue of Extropy Magazine was published by Max More and Tom Morrow. In 1990, More, a strategic philosopher, created his own particular transhumanist doctrine, which took the form of the Principles of Extropy, and laid the foundation of modern transhumanism by giving it a new definition:
Transhumanism is a class of philosophies that seek to guide us towards a posthuman condition. Transhumanism shares many elements of humanism, including a respect for reason and science, a commitment to progress, and a valuing of human (or transhuman) existence in this life. [...] Transhumanism differs from humanism in recognizing and anticipating the radical alterations in the nature and possibilities of our lives resulting from various sciences and technologies [...].
In 1992, More and Morrow founded the Extropy Institute, a catalyst for networking futurists and brainstorming new memeplexes by organizing a series of conferences and, more importantly, providing a mailing list, which exposed many to transhumanist views for the first time during the rise of cyberculture and the cyberdelic counterculture. In 1998, philosophers Nick Bostrom and David Pearce founded the World Transhumanist Association (WTA), an international non-governmental organization working toward the recognition of transhumanism as a legitimate subject of scientific inquiry and public policy. In 2002, the WTA modified and adopted The Transhumanist Declaration. The Transhumanist FAQ, prepared by the WTA, gave two formal definitions for transhumanism:
- 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.
- 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.
A number of similar definitions have been collected by Anders Sandberg, an academic and prominent transhumanist.
In possible contrast with other transhumanist organizations, WTA officials considered that social forces could undermine their futurist visions and needed to be addressed. A particular concern is the equal access to human enhancement technologies across classes and borders. In 2006, a political struggle within the transhumanist movement between the libertarian right and the liberal left resulted in a more centre-leftward positioning of the WTA under its former executive director James Hughes. In 2006, the board of directors of the Extropy Institute ceased operations of the organization, stating that its mission was "essentially completed". This left the World Transhumanist Association as the leading international transhumanist organization. In 2008, as part of a rebranding effort, the WTA changed its name to "Humanity+". Humanity Plus and Betterhumans publish h+ Magazine, a periodical edited by R. U. Sirius which disseminates transhumanist news and ideas. In 2012 the transhumanist "Longevity party" had been initiated as an international union of people, who promote the development of scientific and technological means to significant life extension, that for now has more than 30 national organisations.
Transhumanist-themed blogs by Zoltan Istvan are in mainstream media on Psychology Today and The Huffington Post.
The first transhumanist elected member of a Parliament is Giuseppe Vatinno, in Italy.
Modern Transhumanism, at least in the popular view, can be traced to two sources: Vernor Vinge and Timothy Leary.
Vinge, a mathematics professor and successful science fiction writer, was one of the founding fathers of the cyberpunk genre of SF, and originated the concept of a Technological Singularity, where information technology enables an acceleration of advancements in all technologies at exponential rates, ultimately resulting in either the advent of a human level Artificial Intelligence or expansive human intelligence augmentation with technology to the point of mind uploading, or both AI and IA.
Timothy Leary, famously known for his advocacy of nootropics, of which LSD was only the most nefariously known, promoted transhumanist themes of empowering the individual to use technology (chemical or otherwise) to escape the growing collectivist state, including space colonization, countercultural intentional communities, and early internet technology to connect people together independently of the state/media information control system (aka the "Mainstream Media").
These influences, among others like R.U. Sirius and FM2030 aka FM Esfandiary, helped inspire the founding of the Extropy Institute by Max More and T.O.Morrow, who coined the term Extropy in 1988. ExI, as it was known, became the primary think tank developing and promoting ideas of transhumanism from then throughout the 1990's and utilized the internet as its primary medium of communications and promotion worldwide, along with a public access television show in the Bay Area hosted by Natasha Vita More.
Attracting iconoclastic cyberpunks, cypherpunks, futurists, science fiction writers and fans, and silicon valley pioneers, ExI had a very heavy individualist streak from the beginning, because it was seen that transhumanism was essentially about humans individually self-determining their own destiny with the use of technology, independently of government control, oversight, or limitation. The state was seen as a malfunctioning and obsolescent cultural technology that would be routed around.
The term 'extropy', as an antonym to 'entropy' was used in a 1967 academic volume discussing cryogenics and in a 1978 academic volume of cybernetics. Diane Duane was the first to use the term "extropy" to signify a potential transhuman destiny for humanity. 'Extropy' as coined by Tom Bell (T.O. Morrow) and defined by Max More in 1988, is "the extent of a living or organizational system's intelligence, functional order, vitality, energy, life, experience, and capacity and drive for improvement and growth." Extropy is not a rigorously defined technical term in philosophy or science; in a metaphorical sense, it simply expresses the opposite of entropy.
A more recent definition of Extropy has been provided by Kevin Kelly, senior maverick at Wired magazine. "Extropy is neither wave, nor particle, nor pure energy. It is a non-material force that is very much like information. Since Extropy is defined as negative entropy-the reversal of disorder-it is, by definition, an increase in order." Kelly gives this definition of extropy in his research on the evolution of technology.
In the philosophy of digital probabilistic physics, the extropy of a physical system is defined to be the self-information of the Markov chain probability of the physical system at a moment in time. This was to distinguish the probability of the Markov state of the physical system from the probability defined by entropy which creates ensembles of equivalent microstates.
- Vernor Vinge
- Zoltan Istvan
- R.U. Sirius
- Timothy Leary
- Max More
- Natasha Vita More
- Ray Kurzweil
- Ralph Merkle
- Hal Finney
- Nick Szabo
- Nick Bostrom
- Mike Lorrey
- Patri Friedman
- Sean Hastings
- Erik Klein
- Michael Anissimov
- Giulio Priscio
- Peter Rothman
- James Hughes
- Samantha Atkins
- Charles Stross
- Greg Egan
- Damien Broderick
- Greg Burch
- David Lubkin
- David Brin
- David McFadzean