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Transhumanism (sometimes abbreviated >H or H+) is an international intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of new sciences and technologies to enhance human physical and cognitive abilities and ameliorate what it regards as undesirable and unnecessary aspects of the human condition, such as disease and aging. Transhumanist thinkers study the possibilities and consequences of developing and using human enhancement techniques and other emerging technologies for these purposes. Possible dangers, as well as benefits, of powerful new technologies that might radically change the conditions of human life are also of concern to the transhumanist movement.
Although the first known use of the term "transhumanism" dates from 1957, the contemporary meaning is a product of the 1980s, when a group of scientists, artists, and futurists based in California began to organize what has since grown into the transhumanist movement. Transhumanist thinkers postulate that human beings will eventually be transformed into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label "posthuman".
The transhumanist vision of a profoundly transformed future humanity has attracted many supporters as well as critics from a wide range of perspectives. Transhumanism has been described by a proponent as the "movement that epitomizes the most daring, courageous, imaginative, and idealistic aspirations of humanity," while according to a prominent critic, it is the world's most dangerous idea.
- 1 History
- 2 Theory and practice
- 3 Currents
- 4 Spirituality
- 5 Fiction and art
- 6 Criticisms
- 6.1 Futurehype argument (infeasibility)
- 6.2 Playing God arguments (hubris)
- 6.3 Peter Pan argument (flight from corporeality)
- 6.4 Enough argument (trivialization of human identity)
- 6.5 Gattaca argument (genetic divide)
- 6.6 Brave New World argument (erosion of morality)
- 6.7 Frankenstein argument (dehumanization)
- 6.8 Eugenics Wars argument (specter of old eugenics)
- 6.9 Terminator argument (existential risks)
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
In his article "A History of Transhumanist Thought", philosopher Nick Bostrom locates transhumanism's roots in Renaissance humanism and the Enlightenment. The Marquis de Condorcet is the first thinker whom he identifies as speculating about the use of medical science to extend the human life span. In the 20th century, a direct and influential precursor to transhumanist concepts was J.B.S. Haldane's 1923 essay Daedalus: Science and the Future, which predicted that great benefits would come from applications of genetics and other advanced sciences to human biology.
Biologist Julian Huxley, brother of author Aldous Huxley (a childhood friend of Haldane's), appears to have been the first to use the actual word "transhumanism". Writing in 1957, he defined transhumanism as "man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature". This definition differs substantially from the one commonly in use since the 1980s.
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 for Social Research in New York City, began to identify people who adopt technologies, lifestyles and world views transitional to "posthumanity" as "transhuman" (short for "transitory human"). In 1972, Robert Ettinger contributed to the popularization of the concept of "transhumanity" in his book Man into Superman. FM-2030 published the Upwingers Manifesto in 1973.
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, while John Spencer of the Space Tourism Society organized many transhumanist space-related events. Natasha Vita-More presented the 1980 experimental film Breaking Away at the EZTV Media venue frequented by transhumanists and other futurists. FM-2030, Spencer, and Vita-More met and soon began holding gatherings for transhumanists in Los Angeles, which included students from FM-2030's transhumanist courses and audiences from Vita-More's transhumanist artistic productions, as well as some from the space and astrophysics community. 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 nonprofit company to research, advocate for, and perform cryonics, the Southern California offices of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation became a nexus for futurists. Not all these activities were explicitly concerned with "transhumanism", but some of the involved individuals eventually had a pioneering role in the movement.
In 1988, philosopher Max More founded the Extropy Institute and was the main contributor to a formal transhumanist doctrine, which took the form of the Principles of Extropy in 1990. In 1990, he 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 1998, philosophers Nick Bostrom and David Pearce founded the World Transhumanist Association (WTA), an organization with a liberal democratic perspective. In 1999, the WTA drafted 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 with a high profile in the transhumanist movement.
In 2006, the board of directors of the Extropy Institute made a decision to cease operations of the organization, stating that its mission was "essentially completed". This left the World Transhumanist Association as the leading international transhumanist organization.
For a list of notable individuals who have identified themselves, or been identified by others, as advocates of transhumanism, see the list of transhumanists.
Theory and practice
While many transhumanist theorists and advocates seek to apply reason, science and technology for the purposes of reducing poverty, disease, disability and malnutrition around the globe, transhumanism is distinctive in its particular focus on the applications of technologies to the improvement of human bodies at the individual level. Many transhumanists actively assess the potential for future technologies and innovative social systems to improve quality of all life, while seeking to make the material reality of the human condition fulfill the promise of legal and political equality by eliminating congenital mental and physical barriers.
Transhumanist philosophers argue that there not only exists an ethical imperative for humans to strive for progress and improvement of the human condition but that it is possible and desirable for humanity to enter a post-Darwinian phase of existence, in which humans are in control of their own evolution. In such a phase, natural evolution would be replaced with deliberate change. To this end, transhumanists engage in interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and evaluating possibilities for overcoming biological limitations. They draw on futures studies and various fields or subfields of science, philosophy, economics, history, and sociology. Unlike philosophers, social critics and activists who place a moral value on preservation of natural systems, transhumanists see the very concept of "the natural" as an obstacle to progress. In keeping with this, many prominent transhumanist advocates refer to transhumanism's critics on the political left and right jointly as "bioconservatives" or "bioluddites", the latter term alluding to the 19th century anti-industrialisation social movement that opposed the replacement of manual labor by machines.
While some transhumanists take a relatively abstract and theoretical approach to the perceived benefits of emerging technologies, others have offered specific proposals for modifications to the human body, including inheritable ones. Transhumanists are often concerned with methods of enhancing the human nervous system. Though some propose modification of the peripheral nervous system, the brain is considered the common denominator of personhood and is thus a primary focus of transhumanist ambitions. More generally, transhumanists support the convergence of emerging technologies such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC), and hypothetical future technologies such as simulated reality, artificial intelligence, mind uploading, and cryonics. Transhumanists believe that humans can and should use these technologies to become more than human. Transhumanists therefore support the recognition of morphological freedom as a civil liberty, so as to guarantee individuals the choice of enhancing themselves to progressively become posthuman, which they see as the next significant evolutionary steps for the human species. They speculate that human enhancement techniques and other emerging technologies may facilitate such a quantum leap by the midpoint of the 21st century.
A 2002 report, Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance, commissioned by the U.S. National Science Foundation and Department of Commerce, contains descriptions and commentaries on the state of NBIC science and technology by major contributors to these fields. The report discusses potential uses of these technologies in implementing transhumanist goals of enhanced performance and health, and ongoing work on planned applications of human enhancement technologies in the military and in the rationalization of the human-machine interface in industry.
Some theorists, such as Raymond Kurzweil, believe that the pace of technological evolution is accelerating and that the next fifty years may yield not only radical technological advances but possibly a technological singularity, which may fundamentally change the nature of human beings. Transhumanists who foresee this massive technological change generally maintain that it is desirable. However, they also explore the possible dangers of extremely rapid technological change, and frequently propose options for ensuring that advanced technology is used responsibly. For example, Bostrom has written extensively on existential risks to humanity's future welfare, including risks that could be created by emerging technologies.
On a more practical level, as proponents of personal development and body modification, transhumanists tend to use existing technologies and techniques that supposedly improve cognitive and physical performance, while engaging in routines and lifestyles designed to improve health and longevity. Depending on their age, some transhumanists express concern that they will not live to reap the benefits of future technologies. However, many have a great interest in life extension practices, and funding research in cryonics in order to make the latter a viable option of last resort rather than remaining an unproven method. Regional and global transhumanist networks and communities with a range of objectives exist to provide support and forums for discussion and collaborative projects.
There is a variety of opinion within transhumanist thought. Many of the leading transhumanist thinkers hold complex and subtle views that are under constant revision and development. Some distinctive currents of transhumanism are identified and listed here in alphabetical order:
- Anarcho-transhumanism, a political philosophy synthesizing anarchism and transhumanism.
- Christian transhumanism, a religious philosophy synthesizing liberal Christianity and transhumanism.
- Democratic transhumanism, a political philosophy synthesizing liberal democracy, social democracy, direct democracy and transhumanism.
- Extropianism, an early school of transhumanism characterized by a set of principles advocating a proactive approach to human evolution.
- Hedonistic Imperative, a moral philosophy based upon the obligation to use technology to eliminate suffering in all sentient life.
- Libertarian transhumanism, a political philosophy synthesizing libertarianism and transhumanism.
- Postgenderism, a social philosophy which seeks the elimination of gender in the human species through the application of advanced biotechnology and assisted reproductive technologies.
- Posthumanism, an emergent philosophy that seeks to transcend the principles of Renaissance humanism and bring them into closer correspondence with the 21st century's ideas of scientific knowledge.
- Psychedelic transhumanism, a religious philosophy synthesizing psychedelic culture, New Age spirituality and transhumanism.
- Singularitarianism, a moral philosophy based upon the belief that a technological singularity is possible and advocating deliberate action to effect it and ensure its safety.
- Technogaianism, a moral philosophy based upon the belief that advanced technology can help restore Earth's environment, and that developing such technology should therefore be an important goal of environmentalists.
- Transhumanist socialism, a political philosophy synthesizing democratic socialism and transhumanism.
Although some transhumanists report a strong sense of spirituality, they are for the most part secular. In fact, many transhumanists are either agnostics or atheists. A minority, however, follow liberal forms of Eastern philosophical traditions or, as with Christian transhumanists, have merged their beliefs with established religions.
Despite the prevailing secular attitude, some transhumanists pursue hopes traditionally espoused by religions, such as immortality. Several belief systems, termed new religious movements, originating in the late 20th century, share with transhumanism the goals of transcending the human condition by applying technology to the alteration of the body (Raëlism) and mind (Scientology). While most thinkers associated with the transhumanist movement focus on the practical goals of using technology to help achieve longer and healthier lives, some speculate that future understanding of neurotheology will enable humans to achieve control of altered states of consciousness and thus "spiritual" experiences. A continuing dialogue between transhumanism and faith was the focus of an academic seminar held at the University of Toronto in 2004.
The majority of transhumanists are materialists who do not believe in a transcendent human soul. Transhumanist personhood theory also argues against the unique identification of moral actors and subjects with biological humans, judging as speciesist the exclusion of nonhuman and part-human animals, and sophisticated machines, from ethical consideration. Many believe in the compatibility of human minds with computer hardware, with the theoretical implication that human consciousness may someday be transferred to alternative media.
One extreme formulation of this idea is Frank Tipler's proposal of the Omega Point. Drawing upon ideas in physics, computer science and physical cosmology, Tipler advanced the notion that the collapse of the Universe billions of years hence could create the conditions for the perpetuation of humanity as a simulation within a megacomputer. Cosmologist George Ellis has called Tipler's book "a masterpiece of pseudoscience", and Michael Shermer devoted a chapter of Why People Believe Weird Things to enumerating perceived flaws in Tipler's thesis.
Victor Skumin elaborated on the theosophical conceptions of spiritual evolution and proposed (1990) a classification of Homo spiritalis (Latin: spiritual man), the sixth root race, consisting of eight sub-races (subspecies) – HS0 Anabiosis spiritalis, HS1 Scientella spiritalis, HS2 Aurora spiritalis, HS3 Ascensus spiritalis, HS4 Vocatus spiritalis, HS5 Illuminatio spiritalis, НS6 Creatio spiritalis, and HS7 Servitus spiritalis.
Fiction and art
- For more details on this topic, see Transhumanism in fiction.
Transhumanist themes have become increasingly prominent in various literary forms during the period in which the movement itself has emerged. Contemporary science fiction often contains positive renditions of technologically enhanced human life, set in utopian (especially techno-utopian) societies. However, science fiction's depictions of technologically enhanced humans or other posthuman beings frequently come with a cautionary twist. The more pessimistic scenarios include many horrific or dystopian tales of human bioengineering gone wrong.
The cyberpunk genre, exemplified by William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) and Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix (1985), has particularly been concerned with the modification of human bodies. Other novels dealing with transhumanist themes that have stimulated broad discussion of these issues include Blood Music (1985) by Greg Bear, The Xenogenesis Trilogy (1987–1989) by Octavia Butler; the "Culture" novels (1987–2000) of Iain Banks; The Beggar's Trilogy (1990–94) by Nancy Kress; much of Greg Egan's work since the early 1990s, such as Permutation City (1994) and Diaspora (1997); The Bohr Maker (1995) by Linda Nagata; Extensa (2002) and Perfekcyjna niedoskonałość (2003) by Jacek Dukaj; Oryx and Crake (2003) by Margaret Atwood; and The Possibility of an Island (Eng. trans. 2006) by Michel Houellebecq.
Fictional transhumanist scenarios have also become popular in other media during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Such treatments are found in films (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 1979; Blade Runner, 1982; Gattaca, 1997; The Matrix, 1999), television series (the Ancients of Stargate SG-1 and Borg of Star Trek), manga and anime (Ghost in the Shell), role-playing games (Transhuman Space) and computer games (Deus Ex, Half-Life 2). The fictional universe of the table top war game Warhammer 40,000 also makes use of genetic and cybernetic augmentation. Human characters of the Imperium often employ cybernetic devices, while the Space Marines are indeed posthuman. Many of these works are considered part of the cyberpunk genre or its postcyberpunk offshoot.
In addition to the work of Natasha Vita-More, mentioned above, transhumanism has been represented in the visual and performing arts by Carnal Art, a form of sculpture originated by the French artist Orlan that uses the body as its medium and plastic surgery as its method. The American performer Michael Jackson used technologies such as plastic surgery, skin-lightening drugs and hyperbaric oxygen treatment over the course of his career, with the effect of transforming his artistic persona so as to blur identifiers of gender, race and age. The work of the Australian artist Stelarc centers on the alteration of his body by robotic prostheses and tissue engineering. Other artists whose work coincided with the emergence and flourishing of transhumanism and who explored themes related to the transformation of the body are the Yugoslavian performance artist Marina Abramovic and the American media artist Matthew Barney. A 2005 show, "Becoming Animal," at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, presented exhibits by twelve artists whose work concerns the effects of technology in erasing boundaries between the human and non-human.
Criticisms of transhumanism take two main forms: those objecting to the likelihood of transhumanist goals being achieved (practical criticisms); and those objecting to the moral principles of transhumanism (ethical criticisms). However, these two strains sometimes converge and overlap, particularly when the ethics of changing human biology in the face of incomplete knowledge is considered.
Critics or opponents of transhumanism often see transhumanists' goals as posing threats to human values. Some also argue that strong advocacy of a transhumanist approach to improving the human condition might divert attention and resources from social solutions. As most transhumanists support non-technological changes to society, such as the spread of political liberty and procreative liberty, and most critics of transhumanism support technological advances in areas such as communications and health care, the difference is often a matter of emphasis. Sometimes, however, there are strong disagreements about the very principles involved, with divergent views on humanity, human nature, and the morality of transhumanist aspirations. At least one self-described socially progressive organization, the Center for Genetics and Society, has come into existence with the specific goal of opposing transhumanist agendas that involve transgenerational modification of human biology, such as full-term human cloning and germline genetic engineering.
Some of the most widely known critiques of the transhumanist program refer to novels and fictional films. These works of art, despite presenting imagined worlds rather than philosophical analyses, are used as touchstones for some of the more formal arguments.
Futurehype argument (infeasibility)
In his 1992 book Futurehype: The Tyranny of Prophecy, sociologist Max Dublin points out many past failed predictions of technological progress and argues that modern futurist predictions will prove similarly inaccurate. He also objects to what he sees as scientism, fanaticism, and nihilism by some in advancing transhumanist causes, and writes that historical parallels exist to millenarian religions and Marxist doctrines.
In his 2002 book Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future, biophysicist Gregory Stock, despite his sympathies for transhumanism, is skeptical of the technical feasibility and mass appeal of the cyborgization of humanity predicted by Raymond Kurzweil, Hans Moravec and Kevin Warwick. He believes that throughout the 21st century, many humans will find themselves deeply integrated into systems of machines, but will remain biological. Primary changes to their own form and character will arise not from cyberware but from the direct manipulation of their genetics, metabolism, and biochemistry.
Those thinkers who defend the likelihood of massive technological change within a relatively short timeframe emphasize what they describe as a past pattern of exponential increases in humanity's technological capacities. This emphasis is clear in the work of Damien Broderick, notably The Spike (1997), which contains his speculations about a radically-changed future. Kurzweil develops this position in much detail in his 2005 book, The Singularity Is Near. Broderick points out that many of the seemingly implausible predictions of early science fiction writers have, indeed, come to pass, among them nuclear power and space travel to the moon. He also claims that there is a core rationalism to current predictions of very rapid change, asserting that such observers as Kurzweil have a good track record in predicting the pace of innovation.
Playing God arguments (hubris)
There are two distinct categories of criticism, theological and secular, that have been referred to as "Playing God" arguments:
The first category is based on the alleged inappropriateness of humans substituting themselves for an actual God. This approach is exemplified by the 2002 Vatican statement Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God, in which it is stated that, "Changing the genetic identity of man as a human person through the production of an infrahuman being is radically immoral," implying, as it would, that "man has full right of disposal over his own biological nature." At the same time, this statement argues that creation of a superhuman or spiritually superior being is "unthinkable", since true improvement can come only through religious experience and "realizing more fully the image of God".
The second category is aimed mainly at attempts to pursue transhumanist goals by way of genetically modifying human embryos in order to create "designer babies". It emphasizes the issue of biocomplexity and the unpredictability of attempts to guide the development of products of biological evolution. This argument, elaborated in particular by the biologist Stuart Newman, is based on the recognition that the cloning and germline genetic engineering of animals are error-prone and inherently disruptive of embryonic development. Accordingly, it would create unacceptable risks to apply such processes to human embryos. Performing experiments, particularly ones with permanent biological consequences, on developing humans, would thus be in violation of accepted principles governing research on human subjects (see Declaration of Helsinki). Moreover, because improvements in experimental outcomes in one species are not automatically transferable to a new species without further experimentation, there is claimed to be no ethical route to genetic manipulation of humans at early developmental stages.
As a practical matter, however, international protocols on human subject research may not present a legal obstacle to attempts by transhumanists and others to improve their offspring by germline genetic engineering. According to legal scholar Kirsten Rabe Smolensky, existing laws would protect parents who choose to enhance their child's genome from future liablility arising from adverse outcomes of the procedure.
The first argument does not trouble secular transhumanists, who reject it as irrelevant to public policy in a society that embraces freedom of religion. To the extent that it relies on a supposed sin of defying God's will, secular thinkers argue that it is not morally binding on non-believers and is inappropriate as a political argument. Religious thinkers allied with transhumanist goals, such as the theologians Ronald Cole-Turner and Ted Peters, also reject the first argument, holding that the doctrine of "co-creation" provides an obligation to use genetic engineering to improve human biology.
Transhumanists and other supporters of human genetic engineering do not dismiss the second argument out of hand, insofar as there is a high degree of uncertainty about the likely outcomes of genetic modification experiments in humans. However, transhumanists say that a greater risk lies in not using genetic engineering and other emerging technologies, because present technologies threaten the environment and large numbers of humans die from potentially solvable problems. The implication is that the potential benefits of enhancement technologies outweigh the potential harms, with the moral imperative, if any, being to use the technologies as quickly as possible. Further, transhumanists add that "tampering with nature" is something that humans have done for millennia with every technology, with tangible benefits. Some transhumanists argue that parents have a moral responsibility called procreative beneficence to make use of genetic engineering methods, assuming they are safe and effective, to have healthy children with maximum potential. They add that this responsibility is a moral judgment best left to individual conscience rather than imposed by law, in all but extreme cases. In this context, the emphasis on freedom of choice is called procreative liberty.
Peter Pan argument (flight from corporeality)
Philosopher Mary Midgley, in her book ‘’Science as Salvation’’ (1992), traces the notion of achieving immortality by transcendence of the material human body (echoed in the transhumanist tenet of mind uploading), to a group of male scientific thinkers of the early 20th century, including J.B.S. Haldane and members of his circle. She characterizes these ideas as "quasi-scientific dreams and prophesies" involving visions of escape from the body coupled with "self-indulgent, uncontrolled power-fantasies." Feminist philosopher Susan Bordo refers to what she terms "contemporary obsessions with slenderness, youth, and physical perfection", which she sees as affecting both men and women, but in distinct ways, as "the logical (if extreme) manifestations of anxieties and fantasies fostered by our culture”.
Nick Bostrom asserts that the desire to transcend the material body is pan-cultural and pan-historical and is therefore not uniquely tied to the culture of the 20th century. He argues that the transhumanist program is rather an attempt to channel that desire into a scientific pursuit and make fantasy reality. Transhumanists assert that the impulse to remain healthy and vigorous, and not die, is a fundamental drive of our biological existence and not equivalent to seeking Peter Pan-like perpetual immaturity.
Enough argument (trivialization of human identity)
In his 2003 book Enough, environmental ethicist Bill McKibben has argued at length against many of the technologies that are postulated or supported by transhumanists, including germline genetic engineering, nanomedicine and radical life extension. He claims that it would be morally wrong for human beings to tamper with fundamental aspects of themselves (or their children) in an attempt to overcome universal human limitations, such as vulnerability to aging, maximum life span, and biological constraints on physical and cognitive ability. Attempts to "improve" themselves through such manipulation would remove limitations that provide a necessary context for the experience of meaningful human choice. McKibben claims that human lives would no longer seem meaningful in a world where such limitations could be overcome technologically. Furthermore, even the goal of using germline genetic modification for clearly therapeutic purposes should be relinquished, since it would inevitably produce temptations to tamper with such things as cognitive capacities. He argues that it is possible for societies to benefit from renouncing particular technologies, using as examples Ming China, Tokugawa Japan and the contemporary Amish.
Transhumanists and other supporters of technological alteration of human biology, such as science journalist Ronald Bailey, reject the claim that life would be experienced as meaningless in a world where some human limitations are overcome with such technologies. They suggest, for example, that a person with greater abilities would tackle more advanced and difficult projects and continue to find meaning in the struggle to achieve excellence. Bailey also claims that McKibben's historical examples are flawed, and support different conclusions when studied more closely.
Gattaca argument (genetic divide)
Some critics of libertarian transhumanism have focused on its likely socioeconomic consequences in societies in which divisions between rich and poor are on the rise. Bill McKibben, for example, suggests that emerging human enhancement technologies would be disproportionately available to those with greater financial resources, thereby exacerbating the gap between rich and poor and creating a "genetic divide". Lee Silver, a biologist and writer on the genetic future who coined the term "reprogenetics" and supports its applications, has nonetheless expressed concern that these methods could create a two-tiered society of genetically-engineered "haves" and "have nots" if social democratic reforms lag behind implementation of enhancement technologies. Critics who make these arguments do not thereby necessarily accept the transhumanist assumption that human enhancement is a positive value, only that it could confer additional power to the already powerful, and therefore should be discouraged or even banned. Some critics also question the social implications of the movement's focus on body modification. Political scientist Klaus-Gerd Giesen, for example, has asserted that transhumanism's concentration on altering the human body represents the ultimate form of consumerism and is thus a negative manifestation of advanced capitalism. The 1997 film Gattaca's retro-futurist depiction of a dystopian society composed of genetically modified humans and "naturals" is often cited by critics in support of a combination of these views.
Most of these criticisms are taken seriously by many transhumanist advocates, especially self-described democratic transhumanists, who believe that the majority of current and future social problems (such as unemployment or resource depletion) need to be addressed by a combination of political and technological solutions (such as a guaranteed minimum income or alternative technology). Therefore, on the specific issue of an emerging biotech divide due to body modification, techno-progressive bioethicist James Hughes, in his 2004 book Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future, argues that biopoliticians must articulate and implement public policies (such as a universal health care voucher system that covers human enhancement technologies) in order to attenuate and even eliminate this problem, rather than trying to ban human enhancement technologies. The latter, he argues, might actually worsen the problem by making these technologies available only to the wealthy on the local black market or overseas in countries where such a ban is not enforced.
Brave New World argument (erosion of morality)
Various arguments have been made to the effect that a society that adopts human enhancement technologies may come to resemble the dystopia depicted in the 1932 novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Sometimes, as in the writings of Leon Kass, the fear is that various institutions and practices, judged as fundamental to civilized society, would be destroyed or greatly altered. In his book Our Posthuman Future and in a Foreign Policy magazine article, political economist and philosopher Francis Fukuyama designates transhumanism as one of the world's most dangerous ideas because it may undermine the progressive ideals of liberal democracy, through a fundamental alteration of "human nature" and an erosion of human equality. Social philosopher Jürgen Habermas makes a similar argument in his 2003 book The Future of Human Nature, in which he asserts that human values are tied to a species identity that is, in part, biologically based. This leads Habermas to suggest that the human "species ethic" is susceptible to being undermined by genetic alteration. Bioconservatives such as Kass, Fukuyama, and Habermas hold that attempts to significantly alter the natural human state (specifically through human cloning and human genetic engineering) are not only inherently immoral but also threats to the social order.
In an article in Reason Online, science journalist Ronald Bailey has contested these claims by arguing that political equality has never rested on the facts of human biology. Bailey asserts that the products of genetic engineering may well ameliorate rather than exacerbate human inequality, giving to the many what were once the privileges of the few. Moreover, he argues, "the crowning achievement of the Enlightenment is the principle of tolerance": in fact, he argues, political liberalism is already the solution to the issue of human and posthuman rights since, in liberal societies, the law is meant to apply equally to all, no matter how rich or poor, powerful or powerless, educated or ignorant, enhanced or unenhanced. Other thinkers who are sympathetic to transhumanist ideas, such as Russell Blackford, have also objected to the appeal to tradition, and what they see as alarmism, involved in Brave New World-type arguments.
Frankenstein argument (dehumanization)
Acknowledging the power of biotechnology to make profound changes in organismal identity, bioconservative activist Jeremy Rifkin and biologist Stuart Newman argue against the genetic engineering of human beings because they fear the blurring of the boundary between human and artifact. Philosopher Keekok Lee sees such developments as part of an accelerating trend in modernization in which technology has been used to transform the "natural" into the "artifactual". In the extreme, this could lead to the manufacturing and enslavement of "monsters" such as human clones, human-animal hybrids, parahumans or even replicants, but even lesser dislocations of humans and nonhumans from social and ecological systems are seen as problematic. The novel The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) and the film Blade Runner (1982) depict elements of such scenarios, but Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein is most often alluded to by critics who suggest that biotechnologies (which currently include cloning, chimerism and genetic engineering) could create objectified and socially-unmoored people and subhumans. Such critics propose that strict measures be implemented to prevent these potentially dehumanizing projects from ever happening, usually in the form of an international ban on human genetic engineering.
Objecting to what science writer Isaac Asimov termed the "Frankenstein complex", transhumanists and non-anthropocentric personhood theorists reply that if they are self-aware, all these creations would still be unique persons deserving of respect, dignity, rights and citizenship. They conclude that the coming ethical issue which must be dealt with is not the creation of monsters but what they view as the "yuck factor" and "human-racism" that would judge and treat these creations as monsters.
Eugenics Wars argument (specter of old eugenics)
A trenchant argument against transhumanism comes from critics who allege social bias in the use of concepts such as "limitations", "enhancement", and "improvement." Such critics see the coercive eugenics, social Darwinist and master race ideologies and programs of the past as warnings of what eugenic enhancement technologies might unintentionally encourage. While some acknowledge the differences between coercive and elective forms of eugenics, they argue that the social stratification that may result from the latter would still be problematic. In particular, in their view, it could present unprecedented challenges to democratic governance, even if it came about as the cumulative result of individual choices. Some fear future "Eugenics Wars", a speculative form of genetic class warfare, as the worst-case scenario. Health law professor George Annas and technology law professor Lori Andrews are prominent advocates of the position that the use of these technologies could lead to human-posthuman conflict and new forms of genocide.
For most of its history, eugenics has manifested itself as a movement to involuntarily sterilize the "genetically unfit" and encourage the selective breeding of the genetically advantaged. The major transhumanist organizations strongly condemn the coercion involved in such policies and reject the racialist and classist assumptions on which they were based, along with the pseudoscientific notions that eugenic improvements could be accomplished in a practically meaningful time frame through selective human breeding. Most transhumanist thinkers instead advocate a form of egalitarian liberal eugenics. In their 2000 book From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice, bioethicists Allen Buchanan, Dan Brock, Norman Daniels and Daniel Wikler have argued that liberal societies have an obligation to encourage as wide an adoption of eugenic enhancement technologies as possible (so long as such policies do not infringe on individuals' reproductive rights or exert undue pressures on prospective parents to use these technologies) in order to maximize public health and minimize the inequalities that may result from both natural genetic endowments and unequal access to genetic enhancements. Transhumanists holding similar views nonetheless distance themselves from the term "eugenics" (preferring "reprogenetics") to avoid having their position confused with the discredited theories and practices of early-20th-century eugenic movements.
Terminator argument (existential risks)
Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, struck by a passage from Theodore Kaczynski's anarcho-primitivist manifesto quoted in Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines, became a notable critic of emerging technologies. Joy's essay "Why the future doesn't need us" argues that human beings would likely guarantee their own extinction by developing the technologies favored by transhumanists. He invokes, for example, the "grey goo scenario" where out-of-control self-replicating nanorobots could consume entire ecosystems, resulting in global ecophagy. Related notions are also voiced by Kalle Lasn, a culture jammer who wrote the Cyborg Manifesto spoof as a critique of techno-utopianism, who claims that humanity has an inherent lack of competence to direct its own evolution and should therefore completely relinquish technology development.
British Astronomer Royal Martin Rees argues, in his book Our Final Hour, that advanced science and technology bring as much risk of disaster as opportunity for progress. However, Rees does not advocate a halt to scientific activity; he calls for tighter security and perhaps an end to traditional scientific openness. Advocates of the precautionary principle, such as the Green movement, also favor slow, careful progress or a halt in potentially dangerous areas. Some precautionists believe that artificial intelligence and robotics present possibilities of alternative forms of cognition that may threaten human life. The Terminator series' apocalyptic depiction of the emergence of Skynet, a malign computer network, has been cited by some in this regard.
Transhumanists do not necessarily rule out specific restrictions on emerging technologies so as to lessen the prospect of existential risk. Generally, however, they counter that proposals based on the precautionary principle are often unrealistic and sometimes even counter-productive. In his television series Connections, science historian James Burke dissects several views on technological advance, including precautionism and the restriction of open inquiry. Burke questions the practicality of some of these views, but concludes that maintaining the status quo of inquiry and development poses hazards of its own, such as a disorienting rate of change and the depletion of our planet's resources. The common transhumanist view is that society should take deliberate action to ensure the early, yet safe, arrival of the benefits of emerging technologies rather than fostering anti-scientific views and technophobia.
One transhumanist solution proposed by Nick Bostrom is differential technological development, in which attempts would be made to influence the sequence in which technologies developed. In this approach, planners would strive to retard the development of harmful technologies and their applications, while accelerating the development of beneficial technologies, especially those that offer protection against the harmful ones.
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- Bailey 2004
- Fukuyama 2004
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The following are notable manifestos, organizations and portals not discussed in the main article.
- Accomplishments of Transhumanist Organizations
- Anders Transhuman Resources
- Cryonics Institute
- Extropy Institute
- Future Human Evolution Gateway
- FutureTAG wiki
- Genetics & Public Policy Center
- Immortality Institute
- Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
- Institute for the Study of Accelerating Change
- Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future
- International Center for Technology Assessment
- Journal of Evolution and Technology
- Mormon Transhumanist Association
- Omega Point Institute
- Posthuman Manifesto
- Scientists' Open Letter on Aging Research
- Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
- Transhuman Culture InfoMark
- Transhumanist Arts & Culture
- Transhumanist Student Network
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