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Monday, April 15, 2013

Transhumanism

One of the most important ethical issues is humanity's transition into a new species--however we shall define that.

There is much conjecture regarding a "new" or "transformed" humanity, as technology advances geometrically, as artificial intelligence is joined to human intelligence, as brain and body parts are being modified and replaced, and as we are adapting and adapting to an environment that we are transforming. It certainly looks like we are in the process of transcending human nature. (See my previous reflections on the Singularity.)

That should not come as a surprise to any student of science or anyone who has visited a decent natural history museum.  But formerly we thought there were complete breaks between species that could be defined by distinct "essences" in some great chain of being. After all species means "essence" which consists of a distinctive and separable "form" structuring "matter." But new archeological findings show that the evolutionary nature of human and of all living things has been a ongoing and gradual process.

And while our new understanding of understanding allows for "forms"(which we now realize are symbols, metaphors, or analogies that we jointly mold in order to deal with and know our world and ourselves), it does not admit of absolute, unchanging, or eternal forms--somehow already out there in some Platonic heaven. We are sculpting these forms jointly in our language, our science, our art, our collective imagination.

All this means that our knowledge of species, including homo sapiens, is somewhat arbitrary. Somewhat! Because there are definitions and laws that are discoverable in human nature and in matter, living and not. These limitations and rules are written in our nature as it is now--whether you see that nature as the result of the stars, the gods or God, or of natural and cultural evolution (as do I). This is why I have argued that a universal ethic that is neither absolute nor relative is possible. And it is that ethic which I call "the ethic of integrity," can guide our transition to a "transhuman world."

What is that transhuman world? Science fiction writers have been imagining that for the last two centuries. And before that were explorer and romance writers from the 14th to 19th centuries. And before that the makers of mythology.
  • Does the new transhuman species mean instant communication beyond the limits of the internet? Probably so since the internet even in its infancy contains unlimited memory and ever increasing speed of communication. 
  • Does it mean greatly enhanced capacity for mobility, for learning, for production. It seems that we are already on that projectory.
  • Does it mean a much longer life expectancy, even extending to virtual immortality? Many think so. 
  • Does it mean a joined intelligence in which every person is going through the knowing process together? Does it mean a common experience and consciousness? Possibly so. 
What does it mean for our social systems, our living spaces, our politics?

We are evolutionary equipped to defend life and yet prepare for death, to hold tight but at the same time to let go. If death were delayed indefinitely, that would be a major change in what we are.

We are evolutionarily equipped for individual and personal creativity and innovation. If we were to be absorbed in total societal behavior, that would be a major change in the structure of our human existence.

If we were to step beyond all limitations into a sort of unconditional liberty without restraints, that would be a major change in our nature.

Just think of the changes in thought and behavior these changes would mean.

Yes, we are in the process of creating the superman--ubermensch. We are in a process of constant change. We are in a process of defining who and what we will be, what is progress and what is regress. All we have to guide us is our own tensional and ambiguous nature. But that is enough if we truly take responsibility, if we value our existence as both personal and communal, if we listen to each other, and respect the past and future of us all.

Whatever the transhumanity we choose, it will be regressive if we leave anyone out. It will be progressive if we include us all in the choice. That our present nature tells us clearly.

1 comment:

Rollie Smith said...

Some further thoughts. Will transhumanism be an enhanced (deeper, better, more inclusive, more creative, more spiritual, more holistic, etc) humanism? I hope and trust so. But what does this mean? I can only take the polarities I have identified in our ethical theory of integrity and push them all to their ever expanding limits while holding them all in an integral unity. In this way I think our ethical theory based on an understanding of human nature guides our transhumanism. Then true humanism is transhumanism. Just as human existence in the world is also human transcendence.